It is a pity that learning foreign languages thoroughly has become so unfashionable in English-speaking world, and it is reflected in the fact that we often do not even expect immigrants to learn to speak English properly, but offer them instead bilingual classrooms and alternate communities in which they can happily exist without ever really noticing that they are living in an English-speaking country. This does not show tolerance or multi-cultural sympathy as some think, it actually shows that we have no desire to understand others who are different, or have them understand us because language reveals important things about the culture of the speaker.
Learning a foreign language can benefit you in many ways, here are three of them.
- It opens up a whole new world and way of thinking. Different languages demonstrate what is important to their native speakers through vocabulary, for example Indonesian has at least three different words for rice depending on whether it is in the field, harvested, or ready to eat revealing the fact that rice is a very important part of their culture. Other languages similarly have words that express fine distinctions that we do not find it necessary to convey in English, or do not have words for things and ideas that we use regularly. Variations in language structure also express a different view of time by the complexity or simplicity of their tenses, or the relative importance of actions (verbs) versus things (nouns) by their place in a sentence. As you delve beyond the basics you will learn surprising things about English as well as the language you are learning.
- It also cultivates humility in the learner. To succeed in learning a foreign language you need to be ready to make mistakes and be misunderstood or laughed at, and to receive and learn from criticism. If you are unwilling to speak until you can do it perfectly you will probably not get very far. On the other hand putting yourself in the position of a learner can open up opportunities and relationships that you would otherwise have missed out on. Many people are delighted to help others learn to speak their language more correctly and will enjoy spending time with you and trading phrases if you are open to learn.
- If you are travelling overseas a knowledge of the local language gives you much more freedom to get around, and it can also open unexpected opportunities to see and do unusual things, that the traveller who is dependent on translators and sign language may never learn about. It can also lead to a much more enjoyable and cheaper way of travelling because you are not confined to tourist haunts. Additionally, you may have opportunities to help other travellers, or even help tourists who are visiting your own country, which can either give you the satisfaction of helping someone else, or even lead to a new friendship.
If you do not already speak a foreign language, I strongly recommend you to put it on your list of things to learn for the coming year, if you do then I urge you to take time to increase your knowledge of it and make further progress in your speaking, reading and writing of it.