Why learn a foreign language? The benefits of learning a second language are vast, ranging from the personal and the practical to the far-reaching goal of facilitating global understanding. Studying a foreign language allows us to step outside of our cultural bubble and see the world through a new lens.
The very structure of a particular language can be a gateway into how that particular culture thinks. If we can begin to understand how another culture thinks, we are expanding our ability to empathize and cultivating understanding- two things that are sorely needed in the global community, but that also benefit you as an individual.
The most practical reason for learning a foreign language is that it opens up many more opportunities to you than you would otherwise have, including professional and educational opportunities. Many fields are in need of people with foreign language skills. The travel industry, government agencies, NGOs, education, communications, public policy, and publishing are just a few of these fields.
Even if your employers have no immediate use for your skills, knowledge of a foreign language shows initiative and will give you an edge over other candidates. If you are looking to further your education, most undergraduate and graduate programs at universities require either prior knowledge or enrollment in at least one foreign language.
If you’re interested in traveling, learning a foreign language borders on essential. Even if you can’t learn every language from every country you visit, knowledge of any foreign language will show a commitment to cultural awareness which will encourage people to be more open with you. And while it is true that travelers can get by in many places speaking only English, the range and depth of experiences you have while traveling depend on your willingness to engage with the local culture.
If you want to spontaneously explore unfamiliar territory, make new friends, or simply have meaningful interactions, you should have some knowledge of the local language. If you’re fluent, you can even watch films, read literature, and have lengthy conversations. These pleasurable activities have positive impacts on the culture you are visiting, reflect positively on your own culture, and contribute to intercultural awareness.
Learning a second language can help you to improve many other skills, even those unrelated to language. It has been shown to improve cognitive faculties such as creativity, memory, problem-solving and reasoning. The study of a foreign language is associated with improved Standardized Test scores in many subjects. Studies show it also improves our understanding of our own language and therefore of our own culture.
Aside from expanding our vocabulary and linguistic dexterity in our mother tongue, we can reflect upon our own biases and gain a truly nuanced appreciation of our cultural heritage. Foreign language learning truly facilitates critical-thinking and challenges us on many levels.
Even if you initially learn a foreign language for personal reasons, your willingness to learn another language improves intercultural understanding, empathy and communication.
This has a very positive impact on the global society in which we live. This is the single most important reason to learn a second language- our planet is in urgent need for effective intercultural and international communication.