As of this writing, it is estimated that there are over 7,000 languages that are spoken around the world and of those many thousands, over 50% of the world’s population speak only 23 of those languages (Eberhard, Simons, and Fennig, 2019). The top 5 languages in the world are currently Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, and Arabic which in total have nearly 3 billion native speakers (keep in mind that the total world population now stands at around 7.5 billion people). Although there are 7,000 languages in the world, if a person were able to speak the top five languages, they would be able to communicate with nearly half of the people in the world. Nowadays it’s much easier to learn a language than it was in the past. More foreign language books have been published, language centers are found in every corner of the globe, teachers can be found through various platforms (including yours truly), and we can do language exchanges either online or by meeting up with foreigners who live in our countries. The options are endless. Although there is more ease when it comes to language learning today, it still takes a bit of work to reach a good or even advanced level. Is the time, effort, and money spent on learning a second language worth it? Without a doubt, it is, and for a great many reasons, three of which will be discussed below.
Reason One: Connecting with others and building relationships.
When we travel to another country on vacation, the locals might speak our language, which of course would make things easier for us. However, if we speak the language of the locals, we’ll be able to get a better insight into their culture, history, and also understand people that we come across on a more personal level. Nothing is lost in translation, and we communicate directly with them without walls. The same is true with immigrants who might come to our countries. We’re able to befriend them and teach them about the country they’re becoming a part of and we’re also able to learn from them and hear their stories directly from their mouths. By the same token, immigrants who learn the language of their adopted country will find it easier to adapt to the place they’re living in. Instead being isolated from the rest of the population, they might find it easier to interact with their new neighbors, colleagues, and classmates among others. In addition to traveling and immigration, speaking another language can allow us to make international friends based on things such as hobbies, specialty groups, and so forth. A person who is interested in diving might join groups on social media and get advice from people who speak the language that he or she has learned. A person who loves fashion might connect with groups of Italians and French people to learn about new fashion trends in those countries and if they speak Italian or French, they may be able to go more into depth when they have discussions with group members.
Reason Two (and maybe the most discussed): Work and Professional Reasons
The world is a globalized one and many workers find themselves interacting with clients from different countries and regions. This is especially true now that so much marketing is occurring online at a greater rate than ever before. The wider your language base, the wider your reach will be to potential consumers. Language and culture tend to be intertwined; when you learn a second language, you often pick up parts of the culture related to that language as well. People who pick up a second language may have a deeper understanding about the culture that they’ll be interacting with professionally. Having this understanding will enable a businesswoman or a company chairman to be sensitive to specific parts of the culture they’re dealing with and this can engender a deeper level of respect between two (or more) parties that have to work together. Additionally, taking the time to learn a language to a high degree will show others that you care about their culture and can make them more receptive to you when you’re dealing with each other.
Reason Three: Access to Information
True, there are many books and works of literature that are translated into other languages, so you might be able to read works by international authors in your own language. However, imagine being able to read Dostoevsky in Russian, Coehlo in Portuguese, or Garcia Marquez in Spanish. How much of their style, emotion, depth of meaning, and more would you get by reading directly from the words of these writers compared to having to first go through the “wall” of a translator? Nowadays, it’s about even more than just books. Reading is great, and of course, can’t be stressed enough, but the explosive growth of media globally has been and continues to be immense. Consider streaming movie and TV platforms such as Netflix. Once, it was known mainly for American or mainly English language programming. Now, original content is being produced from and for other regions in the world in the languages of these regions. As with books, translations are available as well as subtitles, but how different is it to hear an actor or actress speak in their own language? Their passion in an emotional debate, their energy when filled with anger, their speech when they’re out of breath during a fight scene, all of these (and more) are things that carry over more strongly when they come from the original actor rather than the voice actor.
Although I’ve only mentioned three, there are a myriad of reasons why learning a second language isn’t only a good idea, but a great one. What are some other reasons you can think of? Comment down below and let’s get a discussion started.