4. Companies are looking for people who know multiple languages.
While Westerners seeking jobs in Asia could once count on knowing English to help them find employment in the financial and other white-collar sectors, many companies now require knowledge of Mandarin. One reason is that younger generations of local residents have the job skills and education — and Mandarin — needed by companies who no longer need to look to Europeans and Americans. Another is the ever-growing economic power of Asia and of China in particular.
5. The U.S. is a nation of immigrants and, therefore, a country of many different languages.
Those who think that only English should be spoken in the U.S. won’t agree with me on this one! I grew up speaking English but some of my older relatives who had emigrated from southern China at the start of the 20th century only spoke Cantonese. I never really learned that language, though I did study some Mandarin in college. But the experience of hearing a different language taught me that there’s more to communicating than just words.
I hear Spanish spoken all the time around New Jersey — in restaurants, by my son’s school bus driver, by my students. I’ve never formally studied it and have made it a point to learn phrases and words.
6. The phrase “lost in translation” is all too true.
Another lesson I learned from hearing Cantonese constantly while I was growing up, and from studying foreign languages in school, is that there are all kinds of things that can be said in different languages that are hard to express in another. I teach ancient Greek and Latin to college students and, for them, the hardest part (more than learning grammar and memorizing vocabulary) is translating — rendering what some ancient Roman historian wrote more than 2,000 years ago into their 21st-century American English idiom.
It’s an English in which we eat bananas and drink tea; in which we study algebra or kung fu or the declining population of cheetahs. We can thank the influence of foreign languages for all those words (and lament that it lacks some like the German “schadenfreude” to express certain emotions). It’s well to quote the Roman poet Horace to “carpe diem” — seize the day! — and start learning a new language.
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