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6 Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language (and Help Your Brain)

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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 tocarpe diem” — seize the day! — and start learning a new language.

 

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119 comments

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7:01AM PDT on Sep 9, 2013

More than one language skills helps to widen your horizons and also mental agility.

12:36PM PDT on Jul 13, 2013

This article makes me happy to be a Francophile:)

8:36AM PDT on Jul 7, 2013

Not intending to be facetious or rude, natural-born Americans would do well to learn to first speak English. It is a little humorous and even sadder that we do not speak or know our own language as well as many other nationalities know theirs--or ours. Americans are generally ignorant of proper English grammar beyond the middle school level. Even erstwhile journalists and "professional" bloggers torture and murder our native language.

Am I exaggerating? Craft a sentence in the imperfect subjunctive mood, the future anterior tense, or even just a sentence with a reflexive or pronominal verb. If you can, you breathe rarer air than most Americans. Recently home from more than a year in Europe, it is not unusual to encounter a European fluent in two, three, four, or more languages.

9:56AM PDT on Jun 27, 2013

Here you can find easy way to learn languages online http://learnlanguagesonline.gr8.com

6:36AM PDT on Jun 17, 2013

Great reasons to learn a language, especially the last point on being able to express something in a much richer way in one language than another, and not being able to translate certain concepts and ideas.

Another great reason to learn a language is for travel purpose. You couldtravel to Cuba to learn Spanish for example, and just by learning the language you gain so much more insight into the true culture.

12:11PM PDT on Jun 14, 2013

Absolutely, people (if they can, for any reasons like money, time or whaterver) should pay attention to knowing more than their native language.

2:37AM PDT on Jun 13, 2013

spanish should be mandatory in the US, seriously.

1:53PM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

Great idea... Thanks for the challenge!!!

12:44PM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

I used to be pretty fluent in Spanish, but have lost a lot of it over the years. I can still understand Italian when my Dad talks to me... but I've never been able to think fast enough to respond.

3:56PM PDT on Jun 11, 2013

I could read and write French in high school and early adulthood, but over the years with lack of use, most of it went away. Every once in awhile I would brush up on it and your article is compelling me to do the same again --- and even add some Spanish. Wish me luck! Thanks for the post, it was very good.

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