Love, money, intelligence, travel. Those are the four main benefits of learning a language, according to Kaplan’s Inspire Language Learning: Blogger Competition. As part of the competition, I was asked to choose which of these is the most convincing reason to become multilingual.
In fact, any one of these four could be great motivation to learn a language. Being multilingual could potentially increase one’s attractiveness, help one get a higher paying job, increase brain power, and help one get around easier while traveling.
However, the biggest and most convincing reason to learn another language isn’t any one of those four things. Learning another language shouldn’t be about getting rich or increasing one’s own self-esteem. Instead, the single biggest benefit to learning a language is becoming a more open-minded, understanding, and compassionate human being.
Learning a language inevitably opens a person’s eyes to the world and teaches them about themselves. It does this in several ways:
1. It forces you to get out there and talk to people.
Anyone who has ever learned a second or third language knows that it is nearly impossible to learn a language strictly through books and tapes. To really learn a language, you have to converse with native speakers on a daily basis. Of course, talking to different people from different cultures will eventually force you to re-examine and adjust any stereotypes or biases you might have had.
2. It motivates you to travel.
Just as it is very hard to learn a language without having constant contact with native speakers, it is very hard to have that contact if you’re not living in a country where the language is widely spoken. Thus, living or at least traveling abroad is almost inevitable. And what happens when a person travels abroad? Their world view starts to expand, along with their minds and hearts. Traveling will allow a person to appreciate what they have and see a different way of life.
3. It can teach you about yourself and your past.
This is especially relevant for Americans like me. Connecting with your past and learning the language of your ancestors can enable you to empathize with others. It’s really important to realize that we were all immigrants at one point and that we all had different languages and cultures, yet were able to unite under one nation. When I was in high school, I decided to teach myself Welsh. Learning Welsh certainly wouldn’t have helped me to get a better paying job or helped me while traveling. So why learn a “dying” language? Well, learning Welsh allowed me to form a strong connection to my roots, as well as helped me to appreciate a culture and language which had endured for thousands of years despite adversity.
4. It can make you humble.
Learning a language isn’t easy. It takes a lot of effort, and inevitably you are going to make mistakes. But after enduring long enough, you will start to realize that you’ve grown and changed in impossible ways. It won’t bother you anymore when you make a mistake, only to be corrected by a five-year old native speaker. You will feel humbled and awed.
5. It helps you to recognize other ways of thinking and doing things.
Learning a language isn’t just about translating things word for word. Each language has its own unique way of expressing ideas and its own character and culture. For example, we have no English equivalent of the Arabic phrase “Alhamdulillah ala salama,” which translates literally as “Thank God for safety.” The phrase is usually directed towards someone who has just pulled through a harrowing ordeal or who has arrived at the end of a journey. Languages often mirror the cultures from which they come. Thus, it’s not a surprise that politeness, concern for others, and an everyday emphasis on religion are intrinsic parts of Arab culture.
So, in a way, I guess you could say that learning a language is all about love, money, intelligence, and travel. It’s all about love because you learn to love and respect other people who are different from you. It’s all about money because your eyes are opened to people who get by with a lot less than you. It’s all about intelligence because your mind expands and you acquire the ability to see things from a different world view. And it’s all about travel because learning a language helps enrich your travel experience; not just by being able to order something off the menu easier, but by being able to connect with people on a unique level.
My advice? Just do it. Go out there and learn a language or two. You will grow in ways that you never expected, open your eyes to new places and people, and you will do your part to make this world a more understanding and respectful place.