The number one reason to learn a language…

 

To step into another culture’s shoes, and thus see yours from another perspective.

 

Of course it can increase job prospects, and yes, it increases other cognitive functions and prevents senility.  It does makes travelling more fun, and it can open a window into other literatures in their original form… oh yes, and I also believe it can improve our understanding and appreciation of our own native language.

But more than anything, as we continue to live in an ever-increasing international society, we’ll need to be able to see outside of our own perspective and to be able to understand each other as best as we can… which is not easy to do if we don’t have the habit of putting ourselves into others’ shoes.

 

Or do you think there’s a greater reason to learn a foreign language?

Think I’ll ask my students and also wonder what yours would say!

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About Brad

--- i'm a learner-teacher, language geek, outdoorsy kind-of-guy --- U might miss the next tweet... Wanna subscribe by email ? ;-)
 
  • http://twitter.com/cerirhiannon Ceri Jones

    Hi there :)  
    I guess on Valentine’s day it’s also all about falling in love …  with a language, a country, a person maybe …  and maybe sometimes it’s not so much a pair of shoes as a shared space … a third space … not really belonging to either speaker, but building a bridge? 
    Sorry, slightly incoherent comment ;)  
    Ceri 

  • http://theotherthingsmatter.blogspot.com/ Kevchanwow

    I don’t know if it’s greater, but what about reinvention?  A new language can be a way to recast yourself, see yourself in a new light, escape from the expectations of those whose ideas of you have fossilized.   I know this is one of the attractions for my students.  Especially the ones who feel there is something too restrictive about Japanese culture.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    If it’s incoherent, it’s because it doesn’t seem logical to most, but feels true to many… aka I love the hippy feel here, and I agree.  Shared space as it really belongs to no one but is exchanged constantly between native, non-native… just as air moves around the earth flowing through us all.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    WOW… I know exactly what you mean, and over time I recognize that I almost have a different personality in every foreign language I speak.  Wonderful to analyze and consider how speaking less well changes our personality as well.  There is a humility that comes with the experience too.  

  • Ceri

    Thanks for picking out … and picking up the tune :)

  • http://twitter.com/brenbrennan bren brennan

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Brad – it opens up new adventures, which can be somewhat closed off, or at least limited to monolingual speakers.
    Being able to understand a joke around a table with people of another culture is a great joy in life.
    I think learning another language and stepping out of your comfort zone into the huge world is a way of overtly stating that you’re not going to let this one-chance-only lifetime thing slip you by without trying to make the most out of it that you possibly can.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hey Bren,

    Adventure… I think YOU hit the nail on the head!

    I think the comfort zone point is a big one as I touched upon humility below in the comment with Kevin.  There’s a “letting go” when we communicate in somewhat limited way.  You can control quite as well as in your native language and that too puts things in perspective for us in many ways.  Cheers, Brad

  • http://www.scoop.it/t/reflections-on-learning/p/1202363266/the-number-one-reason-to-learn-a-language The number one reason to learn a language… | Reflections on Learning | Scoop.it

    [...] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#132f1a; background-repeat : repeat; } http://www.edulang.com – Today, 7:22 [...]

  • http://twitter.com/naomishema Naomi Epstein

    Oh, I think most of my students woud reply using the reasons related to work options or travel options. Many of my special ed teenage students  are very self centered and don’t seem particularly interested in discovering someone elses perspective…
    Looking forward to reading how your students reply!
    Naomi

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Looking forward to hearing how my students reply too!  Interesting… wonder what it’s like to work with self-centered groups.  I get that now and again with one or two students, but a majority of the groups I’ve taught over the years are pretty group-oriented (in China and the US too… still feeling out France).  Cheers!  

  • http://twitter.com/seburnt Tyson Seburn

    I’d like to say I’d fallen in love with a language, at least other than English.  Years ago, I was in love with French (during elementary school).  In high school, I somehow fell out of love with it.  I can’t remember it being due to the teacher or the lessons specifically.  I think I became less invested in learning then.  I’m not sure why, but it probably had something to do with being unpopular.  Anyways, why learn a language?  I think it should be because you love to do so.  And have time.  And I’d like to be more coherent than Ceri, but hey…

  • swisssirja

    Funny, the moment I started reading your post I KNEW I wanted to ask this question from my students ;-) And then I got to the end of it, and felt less proud about my originality :-D
    Anyway, I can already imagine their answer – travelling and working – well, you mentioned both in your lines. My students are studying design and great books about design are in English, most cooperation between international designers is in English etc.

    But I would rather ponder about language and me, myself and I…I agree with Ceri – falling in love. So true!
    Firstly, fall in love with a person. I learnt French this way. I fell in love with my French speaking now husband, and started from a scratch.
    Secondly, fall in love with a country. Well, give me an English-speaking country and I’m happy.

    I could relate to Tyson’s comment, too. Just in inverted ways. When I was a school girl in ex-Soviet Union, Russian was an obligatory language, and for us the language of the occupiers. Hence, we refused to learn it. Now, I look back and curse myself for not using the time and space available to learn this beautiful language.  I mean, at some point in my life I was mature enough to detach the language from the deeds of some people. So in case of English the countries have been a strong motivator, and in case of Russain it’s been the complete opposite.

    And last but not least – I can absolutely understand what you mean by having a different personality when speaking another tongue. There are days when I honestly don’t know who I am any more…I speak French with my husband, I teach English to French and German speaking students and then I need to keep my dear Estonian alive somewhere in my head and heart as well.

    Oh, sorry for this “novel”

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    I hear ya, Ty.  

    I’m all for the love of the language too, and as I mentioned on twitter to someone else, that’s the only reason I’ve ever known for learning a language… well, the love of the adventure and travel that goes with it as well.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think a majority of learners can identify with that, however.  That’s part of why I was interested in hearing not only what we teachers think, but learners too.  I think many of them might be job-oriented, love-oriented, or simply not oriented… I mean who really cares if it helps your cognitive ability or prevents senility?  Not many of my students.

    In the end, you either do it because you want to, or because it’s what you have to do to get what you want/need = job/diploma…. etc.  

    No?

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    We love “novels” here, Sirja!  Anytime.

    Glad you can identify with Ceri, Ty and then my personality points.  It is a fascinating experience to learn a language and there many, many reasons why we do so.  I guess I chose to say the #1 reason because it points to an international philosophy of understanding and of sharing something… I wonder if that would motivates students more or less than a “better job”.

    Thanks again for sharing a bit of your personal stories too.  Always fun to be able to paint a picture of the folks we interact with online.  Cheers!  -brad

  • http://twitter.com/NETC_Travel NETC Travel

    All of these reasons are excellent. The world is becoming
    smaller and smaller and an understanding of the global society and appreciation for cultures outside our own are increasingly important. I think the reasons & benefits to learning a foreign language are
    truly endless. It’s such a rewarding experience to visit a foreign country and
    have the ability to converse with the locals. I’ve seen students light up with
    such a sense of pride and accomplishment on an educational tour when they
    realize they can communicate with someone who lives halfway around the world
    from them. It gives them so much confidence to bring home with them and
    instills a desire to continue studying, or interest in learning a different language they may not have thought about before. It makes us all feel more connected to one another. Great post!

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Thanks for the kind words and thoughtful comment.  I agree as I know first hand what travelling abroad and learning a foreign language has offered me in so many ways.  There are few experiences in life that have changed my direction more.

    Cheers, Brad

  • http://www.edulang.com/blog/blog-challenge-how-and-why-you-learned-a-foreign-language/ Blog challenge: How and why you learned a foreign language | A journée in language.

    [...] Tuesday I posted the “#1 reason to learn a foreign language“, and honestly, I posted it not so much because I believe there is a #1 reason but to [...]

  • Vicki

    I think for many people learning another language (in particular – English) is not a choice. It’s a fact of life. It’s their company language; it’s essential to function in the world they live in. 
    But I don’t think that need negate the value of  things you and other commentors have mentioned. Early literature suggested intrinsic motivation was  more powerful than extrinsic, but it’s not a simple line to draw. As the world becomes more connected, so the discourse communities and communities of practice we belong to blur. The love of learning, adventure and love itself offer powerful rewards.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hi Vicki,

    Thanks for stopping by. I agree that intrinsic motivation is probably greater, and as always these areas do tend to lend more to qualitatively-defined grey areas than anything else, so it is hard to draw a line as you’ve suggested. That being said, I think it is true that learning English is not a choice for many. In the post I just wrote today, I noted how I don’t really think there is a #1 reason, but I wanted to hear reactions from the community on how they view the issue: More here, and a little challenge: http://www.edulang.com/blog/blog-challenge-how-and-why-you-learned-a-foreign-language/
    Cheers, Brad

  • http://twitter.com/OlegNesterenko Oleg Nesterenko

    Thank you for the article.

  • http://twitter.com/Tweetalang Tweetalang

    I’ve been trying to find an article I read a couple of years ago about language and its affect on our memory making. Can’t find the link, unfortunately, but this discussion of seeing yourself in a new light reminded me of it.

    Basically, people of different language backgrounds were asked to watch the same video of a vase being knocked off of a desk and shattering on the floor. English speakers tended to focus on remembering the fact that there was a cause, the person who knocked the vase off and broke it. Japanese observers just recounted the story of the vase as having been broken without focusing on the fact there was a who–it could have just as easily been the wind. There were other examples, but those are the only two I can recall.

    I wonder if in learning to take in life from these different perspectives, if our minds then also take in more details? I guess that would be another study all together. 

    Either way, I definitely agree with the reason you stated in your post. I think it’s really important and that’s why I want to spread the love of language learning.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Now, that’s a very interesting study.  Just as I know you speak Japanese, I think the fact that Chinese is a more “metaphorical” language changes the way its speakers perceive the world.

    Speak a new language, see a new world.  I love that reason!  Thanks Nate

  • http://www.scoop.it/t/modern-lang-ed-resources/p/1227995473/the-number-one-reason-to-learn-a-language The number one reason to learn a language… | Modern Lang. Ed Resources | Scoop.it

    [...] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } http://www.edulang.com – Today, 2:22 [...]

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ty-Kendall/662755104 Ty Kendall

    I think it’s hard for native English speakers to imagine really HAVING to learn a language. There aren’t many situations/places where an English speaker would absolutely HAVE TO learn the language.
    I definitely belong in the “sheer love of the language” camp. I think a real appreciation of the language itself and (equally important) a fascination/interest in the target culture is a bonus. I personally can’t imagine learning another language now (except for the continued study of my true love Hebrew – and maybe my “bit on the side” – Greek).
    Everyone has their own reason though and whilst I believe some justifications can be quite misguided/dubious, I’d never discourage anyone from the study of language.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ty-Kendall/662755104 Ty Kendall

    I think it’s hard for native English speakers to imagine really HAVING to learn a language. There aren’t many situations/places where an English speaker would absolutely HAVE TO learn the language.
    I definitely belong in the “sheer love of the language” camp. I think a real appreciation of the language itself and (equally important) a fascination/interest in the target culture is a bonus. I personally can’t imagine learning another language now (except for the continued study of my true love Hebrew – and maybe my “bit on the side” – Greek).
    Everyone has their own reason though and whilst I believe some justifications can be quite misguided/dubious, I’d never discourage anyone from the study of language.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Well put, Ty.

    I did find in China that once you left the university scene, the majority of people you met did not speak English, which was a plus.  That’s less common in Europe, though I still think you can find it in pockets.  Either way, it’s a diminishing population indeed!

    Good point about loving not only language, but the culture that it emerges from (and the adventure of meeting them both).  Cheers!