Why learn a foreign language? A personal view of the advantages.

Published on May 27th, 2014

Being multilingual and growing up in two different countries, I was always interested in other cultures and languages. The reason being that while learning another language you are not only learning to speak it, but also getting to know the culture and great characteristics of the country itself. Although at the beginning it can be difficult to stay with it, especially while learning the grammar and vocabulary, speaking another language brings many advantages.

Along with the attractions of travel, learning any one language also increases the understanding of at least one other. It didn’t only help me to understand my own native tongue, but also to learn other languages that are in the same vein. As a native German speaker, after learning English, I found it very easy to understand and learn related languages like Dutch because of its similarity to both. So being able to speak German and English gave me the opportunity to learn Dutch more easily and study in the Netherlands, which later also led to a semester abroad in Indonesia. Speaking different languages and studying in different countries gave me a brilliant experience in different fields that are not only essential for my private life but also my work environment.

Living and studying abroad fosters a sense of teamwork while travelling together in a group and experiencing the challenges of a multicultural situation. While being abroad, I also learned to depend on myself, how to ask questions and be proactive, and provide and solicit help. Especially during my time in Indonesia, but also in the Netherlands, being in a foreign country made me more reflective about my own culture and helped me to appreciate the differences between the cultures. Regardless of whether you are just about to enter the world of work or have been employed for years, speaking more than one language brings great career opportunities. Employers often seek someone with the ability to speak other languages or understand other cultures. Speaking at least one other language or spending some time abroad makes it much easier to enter international business. The reason is that people often have better skills like communication, analytical abilities, teamwork and flexibility. This will also help to stand out of the crowd while applying for a new position.

But like some of my friends, many people are convinced that if you missed learning a language as a child or teenager, it is not possible to do so later in life; and they use it as an excuse to not even try it. Although it is true that learning a language as an adult requires much more effort, there is no defined age when you lose the ability to learn a language. A study of Swedish researchers showed that learning a language later in life can even develop your brain. While one group learned Arabic, Russian and Dari within only 13 months, the control group of medical and cognitive science students also studied hard, but not languages. The results, published in the journal NeuroImage, show that while the brain structure in volunteers from the control group remained unchanged, specific parts of the brain that are responsible for developing new knowledge and consolidating short-term memory into long-term memory in the language students grew.

These are only some of the many reasons for learning a new language. What are yours?

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Posted on: May 27th, 2014