The language I am writing in right now is on its way to become the world’s universal language, for better or for worse. Whether we like it or not, it’s the language of the Internet, air traffic control, finance, diplomacy, music and many more. English is omnipresent.
Even though Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more people, more Chinese people are learning English then English speakers are learning Chinese. Apparently, there are more than twenty universities in China teaching in English. It seems like English has taken over. In addition to that it has been predicted that at the end of the century almost all the languages that exist now (about 6 thousand) will no longer be spoken and there will only be a few hundreds left. What is more, the instant translation of live speech is not only possible but it is improving every year. Taking all the above into account, we are getting to the point when this simple question arises: why should we learn foreign languages other than English if it is already a foreign language to us? Why to make an effort and bother if sooner or later we will all be using one universal language to communicate?
There might be a lot of good reasons behind it. Most of them are quite obvious and have been dwelt upon a lot: it is useful when you travel, it might help you find a better job or enable you to move abroad and start your new life there. It can undeniably make you more sociable while interacting with foreigners and eventually bring new friendships and relationships into your life. We all know about it and these are probably the most motivating factors while choosing another language to explore.
However, there are less obvious reasons that could also enhance your decision to set off on a quest to learn a foreign language. What would you say to these?
1. Open yourself to other people.
Learning a foreign language, and thus culture and worldview is the most effective way to understand individual behavior or the whole community and this is absolutely priceless. When you are aware of the fact that we are all inseparably connected with our culture and that we have grown up in a certain, specific environment, you are able to perceive and comprehend some behavior patterns and attitudes in a new light. Looking at the world from a different perspective is a fascinating and informative experience. Theory says the language or – to be more specific- vocabulary and grammar – channel our thoughts. There is a funny way to illustrate it. For example, in French and Spanish ‘the table’ is feminine. If you are a speaker of one of these two languages and you are asked to imagine a table talking it is more than likely that speakers of either language would say the table speaks with a high feminine voice, that is the table is kind of a girl to them as opposed to an English speaker. Here comes a suggestion that you have a certain worldview if you speak one of those languages.
2. The language channels the culture.
If you want to submerge into the culture and indulge in it there is no other way but to do it by the language the culture is conducted in.
A great number of literature, pieces of art, music or architecture were created in a foreign language. Translation, even the most accurate one, will never reflect the beauty, particular style and uniqueness of the original. It is like watching a concert on TV. You can understand the show, the message or the plot, but you will never feel the vibe of the event and the atmosphere it creates if you are not in the audience.You can understand culture, but you will not feel it completely without knowing the language. Moreover, translation is always a projection of a translator’s point of view and some elements are simply lost in translation. Puns, metaphors or cultural references lose their meaning when translated. To be able to fully appreciate music, literature, poetry, theater or film works you must have access to them through the original relay – its language.
3. Bilingualism is healthy for your brain.
If you speak two languages dementia is less likely to appear and you are probably a better multitasker. It is worth remembering to teach our kids languages at a very early stage. Ellen Bialystok, a distinguished psychology research professor at York University in Toronto, Canada is a cognitive neuroscientist whose research has shown that speaking two or more languages on a regular basis from a young age can have a positive effect on the brain. Not only does it reinforce cognitive abilities, being bilingual can also inhibit or at least slow down symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Speaking a foreign language makes you more decisive.
Researchers from University of Chicago have demonstrated the link between speaking a foreign language and the ability to make the right decisions. Bilingual people are more confident in their choices when they think about them in a second language and when they verify if the conclusions they make are true. It could also mean making wise financial choices. Sounds tantalizing for the indecisive or… gamblers:)
5. Languages can be fun.
Today it is so much easier to learn a language than a decade or two ago. You can lie on your sofa, sip your favorite drink and teach yourself any language you want with the use of Rosetta Stone, Duoligo or Glossika. And you can do it anytime, do it more and better. You can read your favourite comic book in any language you want. It’s reality which 20 years ago would have sounded like science fiction. Who would have thought two decades ago of the idea of having any language you want in your pocket coming from your phone? So it is highly recommended to do it now, as there has never been a better time to do it and it is also a lot of fun. As simple as that:)
6. You can improve your mother tongue skills.
As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said: “Those who know nothing about foreign languages know nothing about their own.” Studies have shown that speakers of foreign languages also have wider knowledge about languages in general, and thus can more effectively use their mother tongue. If you know foreign languages, you understand your own language better and improve your linguistic skills as a whole. The longer you carry on learning foreign languages, the better results you might achieve in reading, listening and memorizing things.
Which one do you find the most convincing reason? Share your thoughts in comments below.