Although most people know why they want to learn a foreign language it is good to remind ourselves about the benefits of knowing a second language or even a third language…
We live in an era when the distant continents and countries are linked together economically, financially more than ever. Communication between people and nations is getting more and more intense. Don’t forget, communication is a very broad term, and for scientists it includes travel, too. Tourism is not a privilege of the rich aristocracy as it was a hundred years ago — but a common leisure activity for most of us. In a few hours we can jump from one continent to another, from one country to a completely different place. If you drive in Europe just in one single day you can go through several different countries, all with their own languages, their own distinct culture.
We travel more than ever. And while traveling we like to learn and understand different cultures and people. It is in the human nature to be curious about other humans who speak in a “strange” language and do things differently than we do. The best way to understand foreign countries and distant cultures is to try to learn their languages.
Languages are huge depositories of common knowledge, thousands of years of experience and wisdom. Every language mirrors another way of looking at our world, another attempt to solve the same questions we, humans, ask about ourselves, about our world and the proverbial ‘meaning of the life’.
For some of us it can be just a hobby to learn newer and newer languages. I remember a schoolmate of mine who has always been fascinated by exotic languages and cultures and used to grab every possibility to learn another language. At that time we were laughing at him… but today he’s a well-known cultural anthropologist at a major US university. Imagine if his parents were not supportive in his endeavors for learning… (Just a reminder for parents: let that kid immerse in langauges because you never know!)
On a more practical level I noticed wherever I travel they treat me way better if I am able to speak even a little bit of their language. The receptionist, the waiter, the cab driver — they all smile when they hear you trying to greet them on their own language or to ask a question. Strangers invited me for a drink and I made friends in foreign cities just because I’ve asked for directions in their own language. I even heard stories from humanitarian aid workers that knowing the local language saved their life because they were able to communicate directly with the “bad” guys…
Let’s look at the question in the title from a different angle: Is there any reason not to learn a foreign language?
I don’t know of any. Just pick a language and begin with the first lesson. The next one will always be easier.