Why learn languages?
This week my friend Teddy Nee from Nee’s language blog talks about the value of learning languages
“Why should you bother learning another language when you already know English?”
Someone might have ever asked this question to you before, and how did you react to it? Or let’s assume nobody had asked this question to you, how would you answer it when you are asked?
I was frequently asked by either my friends or acquaintances why do you learn languages. They know and we all know that I know English because if you can understand this text, it means that I know English. Having been asked that question, I have only one answer, “Not everyone is eager to speak English or can express themselves well in English.”
We should accept the fact that nowadays we can get information from other countries in other languages much easier than, let’s say, 20 years ago. It mainly because of the internet. The internet has really changed our way of life, and it even has created so many jobs that weren’t existed before. I work as an IT engineer, and it is not easy to explain about what I really do to my parents, or even to my grandparents because what I am doing did not exist in their time when they were at my age.
So, this easy access to information has caused globalization to happen where companies can establish partnership with overseas companies, and have the ability to expand their market even to much larger scope, not to mention inter countries, but inter continents.
English as a universal language
English language which originated from England has apparently became a universal language that two persons from different countries would use to communicate unconsciously because they thought English is supposed to be the language that everyone understands for international communication.
If you often gather information from the internet, you must have realized that most contents are available in English. Therefore, if you know English, you can get much more information that those who don’t know English. That’s the fact! However, I need to remind you that there is still limitation for using English to search for information, especially if the information is more personal that only speakers of the original language could have the privilege for the access.
Taking part in an international community
When we discuss about a universal language, a question might occur in mind, that is “What is a truly universal language?” and “How do we define a universal language?”. The United Nations even has 6 official languages — English, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Arabic, and Russian. We might also be intrigued to talk about a constructed language for international communication, Esperanto.
Esperanto speakers around the world have been vigorously promoting Esperanto as the language for international communication. Nowadays, we can see many activities done in Esperanto, such as activities related to education, charity, science research, journalism, commerce, and so on. Although there are quite a lot of people who are still pessimistic and skeptical about Esperanto language being a human communication tool.
We need to have more knowledge about other language in order to get access to much more information, and to be able to get to know more people from other countries, especially those who don’t speak English or our languages. On top of that, language learning is like an investment. Spending a little time and effort to learn a language that you could use for your whole life doesn’t seem to be a big deal.
Choosing a language to learn
When you search for, let’s say, top 10 most favorited languages in the world, top 10 languages with the most speakers, top 10 languages for job seekers, etc. you can get abundant of results. The most important is to know your goal, whether you want to learn the language because there is more job opportunities in your area or you want to learn the language that is completely different from that you have known or you want to learn a language that is similar with that you have known. Deciding the goal is the very first thing you need to do.
If you like challenge, you should choose to learn language from other language family. For example, if you know English, you can pick Hindi, Mandarin or Russian as your target language. If you want to quickly reach higher level of understanding in other language, you should choose to learn language from the same language family. For example, if you know Spanish, you can choose to learn Italian, Portuguese or French.
There is actually a rule of thumb that many language courses don’t teach you. If you want to impress your friends with the amount of languages that you know, learn languages from the same family group because they share so many similarities that you even already can understand a big portion of it without learning. Thus, it is not surprising to know a someone who knows 5-6 languages but those languages are from the same language family.
Depending on your geographical location, some languages might not be useful. Let’s say you will spend some months in Latin America. Your focus should be Spanish rather than Japanese, and perhaps, the second language could be Portuguese. However, any languages will likely be useful if your activities are internet-based since the majority of people around the world have had access to internet nowadays.
So I ask again. Why learn languages? Knowing more languages is always beneficial. Apart from giving you more opportunities to enjoy what speakers of those languages can enjoy, you can also enrich yourself by broaden your viewpoint and increasing your skills. Learning language also trains your brain and it certainly increase your intelligence. No wonder, many articles state the benefits of knowing more languages as if there is no downside of it.
Teddy Nee is a passionate language learner and blogger. An IT Engineer by day and a language learner by night. His mission is to raise awareness of the importance of knowing more languages and to educate more people to be global citizens. He believes that learning the language of the others is a milestone to reach world peace. You can correspond with him in Medan Hokkien, Indonesian, English, Chinese Mandarin, Spanish, and Esperanto. Visit his blog at Nee’s language blog.