In the US you don’t find a high percentage of people who speak more then 1 language. It’s pretty clear from the culture here that learning another language in most areas is not highly encouraged. The thing is, there are so many benefits to speaking other languages that we are just hurting ourselves by not promoting multilingualism. While the rest of the world is gearing up for globalism by learning at least 1 other and sometimes 2 or 3 other languages back here in the US we just twiddle our thumbs and think everyone should speak English so why bother learning another language.
I know about the US’ resistance to foreign language learning first hand. When I was 12 I was curious about learning Spanish, I thought it was so cool and interesting, I was dying to learn. There were no classes for junior high school kids to learn a foreign language so I had to petition my principal to let me take a high school level class. I had to go in and do a type of interview explaining to him why I wanted to take Spanish as my elective as opposed to the other electives offered to junior highers. I don’t remember what I told him but apparently I convinced him and he let me take it. Then when I was about 14 after two years of studying Spanish I would practice sometimes with some of the Mexican students who were native speakers, I beleive today that this is what helped me improve at such a rapid rate as opposed to the other kids in my class who didn’t really pay attention or try. Not everyone thought this was so great though, I did come up against kids who would laugh at me and one guy told me in the hall that I looked bad because I was trying to be Mexican. Apparently to a lot of the kids at my school learning to actually speak Spanish was an embarrassment. I was often embarrassed and felt bad due to the kids who would laugh or say mean things, but I never gave up, if anything I continued on more determined then ever, this is just a reflection of how a lot of Americans view actually speaking a foreign language.
I wanted to talk about some of the cool aspects of speaking another language and why we should encourage people to learn foreign languages more often.
- First of all when you learn a foreign language you use your brain, it’s like learning a puzzle that eventually fits together with a lot of hard work and practice. They’ve done studies that bilingualism delays the onset of Alzheimers. Probably because speaking other languages helps keep your brain sharp.
- You can communicate with a whole nother group of people. For example if you learn to speak Russian, there are about 155 million native speakers and about 110 million who speak Russian as a second language, think of all the new people you can get to know!
- Learning a new language means by default, you learn about a new culture, customs and different ways of thinking. It helps you open up to ideas and ways of doing things you’ve never even really considered before.
- Reading: you can read books in their native language and let me tell you what a difference it makes! Lost in translation is exactly the correct term for reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Spanish and then English (not near as good in English!)
- Watching movies: whenever I watch a French movie I’m always dissapointed with the subtitles, I’m so glad I can watch and understand what they are really saying because they often butcher the phrases and lose the contexts of jokes and sayings.
- Other fun things, for example if I want to point something out to someone who is with me who speaks another language we can switch into the foreign language and nobody understands what you’re saying!
- You don’t have the inhibitions of your native language. When I speak Spanish or French I have no problem cussing up a storm or talking about things explicitly sexual. Why? Because I don’t have those inhibitions like I do in English. There are many restrictions to language you learn so innately when you are young (due to society) that you can’t really get rid of them, but if you learn a new language, they aren’t even there. It’s kind of fun and dangerous at the same time (good combo!).
Having a passion for languages has helped me greatly, but I don’t find myself overall especially unique. I think if people have the drive, desire and dedication they can learn a foreign language that can help them greatly in numerous aspects that I mentioned above. Due to my languages I was able to get my previous job at a French company and my current job at a Mexican company. Now with international business booming, having language skills can make you more marketable.