Have you ever heard someone speaking a beautiful-sounding foreign language and thought to yourself: “wow, if I get the time, I want to learn that language too?” Well, today I’m going to try persuading you that learning a new language IS a great investment of your time and effort. Sure, I’m a language fanatic and so should be taken with a grain of salt on this matter, but hopefully by the end of this article, learning a new language will be your go-to when you have spare time and are looking for a new hobby.
Expressing yourself more completely
Since different languages have different sets of vocabulary, each language has its own ways of communicating emotions, thoughts and situations. Consider the French phrase “Déjà-vu”, which is used extensively in English, and directly translated, means “already-seen.” If you’ve used this phrase in conversation, you’ve already used another language to express a specific situation that this language describes best. Other examples could be the various words for love in Greek and Urdu, or the Japanese word “umami”, all of which are so specific, detailed and niche that they have no direct English translation. In my experience, the more languages you learn, that more niche words you pick, allowing you to describe your life with greater clarity.
Accessing a wider range of media
Yes, subtitles and dubbing are great options when available, but I get a thrill out of watching foreign movies or TV shows in their original language, even if I don’t understand every word. Whether it’s watching anime in Japanese or a French movie in French, watching in the original language often allows me to experience accents, ways of speaking, and regional nuances that tend to otherwise get lost in translation, making the overall journey more culturally informing and satisfying. In fact, this idea extends to other forms of media too, and be it listening to Reggaeton or reading Aristotle in Ancient Greek, there’s just something cool about understanding an author / writer / creator’s message in their own words (even if only partly!)
Delighting friends, strangers, and everyone in between
This is probably my favorite part of learning a new language. Whether I’m proficient or very much a beginner, I love opening up conversations with people in their native language and watching their faces light up. I’ve done this enough to tell you that not only do people appreciate the effort you’ve put in to learn their language, but demeanor can also quickly change from indifferent to warm and interested. Let me give you some examples: speaking in French with a fellow trekker opened up a spirited conversation about French politics, using broken Chinese at a hair salon while I was traveling led to local restaurant recommendations, and talking in Tibetan with new peers led to deeper friendships. Try it for yourself and while it may be awkward at first, you won’t regret it!
Thinking in new ways
Regardless of which language you learn, you will likely be challenged to think in new ways. For example, many Asian languages such as Korean, Japanese and Tibetan follow the subject-object-verb (SOV) order, while many European languages use the subject-verb-object (SVO) order. This can be very confusing at first, because to an English speaker, the sentence “I drink water” in English comes out as “I water drink” in Korean! Since no two languages are the same, you will be challenged by many nuances like this on your language learning journey. And for me, this has expanded the way I think – sometimes it really does feel like a logic puzzle!
Gaining a marketable skill
If you’ve read my last few posts you’ll know that I like to keep the pragmatics to a minimum, and certainly there hasn’t been a language yet that I’ve learned purely for career / professional purposes. That said, especially if you learn an in-demand language such as Arabic or Chinese, having competency of a foreign language can help you stand out from other applicants in the professional world. This is particularly true in multinational industries such as consulting or even research, where you’ll likely be working with colleagues (and / or clients) from all over the world.
This was a bit of a lengthy post, so thanks a lot for reading! Being a topic I love so much it didn’t take me took long to write, and hopefully you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Till next time!