Why knowing a foreign language is valuable

Sometimes, I think I grew up in a society that believes that an English speaker doesn’t have to know a foreign language–after all, if English is the lingua franca; it’d waste time spending years on a skill that offers only limited global use.

I don’t like that mindset; I’ve been learning Spanish since I was five, and I dabble in Esperanto and Italian when I get the chance.  Foreign languages offer what no other academic subject can: contact with the world outside of a little bubble.  Realization that this is a global society, and no one culture or language has a complete monopoly over it.  As of June 2016, Earth boasts 196 countries and over 6,500 total languages.  Yet, encouraging the globe to be able to speak just 1/6,500 (.015%) of them seems counteintuitive to me.

I think there’s purpose and value in at least having a limited proficiency in a foreign language or two.  You read everywhere how learning one wards off dementia and improves your memory; on top of that, one can weigh cultural benefits too–with the exception of artificial languages designed only for communication (I’m looking at you, Esperanto), learning a new language gives insight into what can be a completely different culture.  I think languages are powerful because they offer insight into the human condition, they connect us, with just a series of audibles–nouns, verbs, and adjectives.  We live in a world where you can speak to someone on it’s opposite face with 10 digits or an embarrassing screen name from 2006; the bubble has become our stratosphere, and we likely won’t become as isolated from our neighbors in at least the next 50 years.

English is the lingua franca right now, yes.  It was Latin, French, Russian, and now us.  But what about if we share that title one day?  If not all children are required to practice English as their primary second language?  Or if, in business meetings, it’s the English speaker who must request a translator?

No matter one’s country, we all face certain identical issues.  Poverty, world hunger, climate change, biodiversity, and human rights, to name a few, are not issues specific to one nation.  I believe that a difference in perspective, which comes from different cultures, is the passport to solving these dilemmas.  I’ve learned from every one of my employers and teachers that communication leads to resolution.  I think that looking at a problem from a different angle is what solves them.  But, how can we access these different perspectives if we can’t communicate with the ones who have them?  Language shouldn’t be an obstacle for solving global issues.

My point is that I’ve noticed that some of the English speaking world has developed a theory that it needs not another language to learn–and for the reasons above, I believe it should abandon that logic.



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