And why Mel Gibson will inspire you to learn a foreign language
We live in a globalized world, a world where cultural understanding and interaction is becoming more and more a part of our everyday lives. This is especially true of the corporate world where multinational companies are becoming the norm, and the key to getting a job is some international exposure and knowledge of a second language. While essential for an international career, here are 8 reasons to learn a foreign language while studying abroad, including motivation from Mel himself.
1. Increases intellectual development and makes you smarter
People might assume it can interfere with intellectual development, but being bilingual will actually make you smarter (shocker, I know). It can even improve skills not related to language, and protect against dementia in old age.
How? As opposed to people who can only speak one language, bilinguals have a better awareness of the environment since they regularly have to switch languages. It requires them to keep track of changes around them in the same way a person does when driving. Instead of creating more internal conflict, it forces the brain to resolve it.
And here’s a link to my source since I wasn’t the one who did the research.
2. To improve chances of entry into college or graduate school
Today, just about every competitive college and university requires a minimum of two years of high school foreign language for admission. A couple of semesters of foreign language courses is probably also mandatory at those same colleges and universities (which is actually how I got my start in Chinese).
Schools recognize the influence of language in areas like the arts, theology, literature, and both the social and hard sciences, and they consider (correctly in my mind) exposure to a foreign language a necessary aspect of any successful college education.
It also goes without saying that solid knowledge of a second language is becoming standard for admission to graduate study in almost every field. When students reach that level of education, a lot of required research is published in non-English language books and professional journals.
If nothing else, knowing a language can’t hurt your application, and is very likely to make you a more competitive candidate in both the undergraduate and graduate admissions process.
3. To advance your career
Taking it one step further, having an intermediate or advanced knowledge of a foreign language is a huge asset in the professional world. The economies of the world are increasingly more globalized, and people who can interact on that international stage are becoming very valuable.
Careers that require knowledge of a foreign language include those in government agencies, the travel industry, education, engineering, communications, law, economics, and advertising. Jobs and services can range anywhere in scale from local interpreters and tour guides, to language interpreting assistance for some of the world’s largest multinational companies.
For businesses to compete in a global economy, it’s essential that they deal with other companies on their own cultural terms. It’s much easier for bilingual employees to both communicate with foreign business partners and clients, and also to understand and appreciate the influence that the language and culture have on the working environment.
No matter what career field you choose, or where in the world you choose to work, it’s undeniable that knowing a second language will give you an edge.
4. To enhance travel/make travel easier
I should preface this by saying there are people in this world who have successfully traveled to all corners of the globe without speaking another language. With almost 200 countries, it’s near impossible to know the native tongue of each one. That being said, there are many ways in which speaking or read a foreign language can both enhance your experience in another country, and make travel a whole lot smoother.
Take my recent trip to Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Suzhou for example. My friends and I spoke in Chinese whenever we booked tickets, asked for directions, ordered food or managed to talk our way out of a sweaty, jam packed cattle car and onto the air-conditioned, spacious dining car. Could we have done it in English? Probably, but we saved on stress, headaches, and time by doing it in Chinese.
Then of course there’s the cultural aspect of travel, where knowing a language will affect your ability or inability to see beyond the surface. Call me a travel snob, but when you lack the ability to communicate in the native language, assimilating into day-to-day life and gaining a deeper understanding of the culture becomes very difficult. While local people may have interpreters or speak English themselves, there are aspects of a language and culture that get lost in translation.
5. To improve your English
Having spoken English my entire life, I assumed I knew everything there was to know about my mother tongue. When I tried to teach English last year, I sadly realized otherwise. We get so used to speaking and writing our language that we often forget things like correct grammar and spelling; it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a reality.
Believe it or not, learning how to speak another language can actually help improve your English, or whatever your native language is. See, the same idea is often expressed differently in other languages. When you speak a foreign language, therefore, you have to actively think about what you want to say and how you want to say it.
I know that when speaking Chinese, I find it helpful to think about both the sentence structure and grammar in English first. Doing this also allows me to better understand tenses, prepositions, and other parts of speech I normally take for granted (the word “the” is a prime example).
6. To create friendships
One of the best parts of studying abroad is meeting new friends. The relationships you develop while studying, traveling, and living together will undoubtedly be some that you’ll never forget.
And while some of your new friends may other Americans, or international students who speak English, there’s also a strong possibility that you’ll become friends with people who don’t speak English, or you may not speak their native language.
During my semester at Beijing University, I was one of just a few English speaking Americans in my Chinese classes. The cool part was that my classmates from Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, The Netherlands, and Germany could use Chinese to break all of those language barriers.
On the most general level, the better you can speak a language or the more languages you know, the greater the number of people on Earth with whom you can communicate and become friends. These bonds are usually very tight, as you both appreciate the effort spent getting to know the others language and culture.
7. To increase global understanding
Cultural insensitivity can have a huge influence on a nation’s inability to cooperate, negotiate, and compromise, in today’s world. It can, and often does, escalate to a very serious level.
The solution to this is to promote cultural relativism, to gain an understanding of the world’s other cultures, and even if you don’t agree, at least accept their right to be different. This is where knowing another language will be key, as language can be used as a tool to improve communication between businesses, governments, and peoples, as well as breakdown cultural and ideological barriers.
8. To avoid having to depend on English pick-up lines
Probably the lamest of all, however, it’s very true. Whether you’re trying to talk to a member of the opposite sex at bar/club, or to someone you may actually see yourself with in the long term, speaking his/her language is always a striking quality.
Sure, knowing another language means you can avoid a pretty big cultural barrier, but even more so there’s just something attractive about seeing someone speak a foreign language. Although the clip below totally contradicts this statement, my advice would be to learn more than just the standard corny pick-up lines.
This post was brought to you by Language Assurance Service
If you have any other questions or comments please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!