Native English speakers sometimes do not realize that learning a second language is essential to enlarge their awareness of other people’s identities and culture as well as enlighten them about the importance of developing communication skills in a different language. Any child, teenager and even adult, no matter his or her nationality, has much to gain from learning a foreign language. Speaking the universal language – English – should be no excuse to hinder a person’s capacity to broaden his/ her mind and spirit through the challenging exercise of learning a second language.
Another point that you need to take into account is that young learners of a new language are much better at acquiring native-like pronunciation in the foreign language than older learners, but it is not before children are 11-13 years old that they will be able to learn in a systemic way. So, there is no excuse for older learners to claim it is too late. The sooner you start, the easier the process may be, mainly in what concerns the acquisition of a good accent, but it is always good to find the time to invest in a language that is recognized as important, like Mandarin, Spanish, French or German, as all these languages connect you to Europe, Asia and South America, allowing you to have a communicating advantage in case you deal with these countries professionally. Even if your accent is not perfect, native speakers won’t worry about the detail, if you make the effort to communicate in their own language. You can be sure your chances of communicating well are increased if you try to speak someone’s native language.
Therefore, no matter how old you are, what you ought to remember is that it is highly advisable, for a number of reasons, to take the challenge of learning a foreign language. Let us analyze in detail some of the most favorable personal gains it entails. To begin with, knowing different languages broadens your communication capacity and shows that you are socially open-minded and culturally active, which is not only appealing to other people, but also a sign of maturity. You become a much more interesting person. You can make new friends. Find love. Travel without restrictions or fears.
Secondly, speaking another language stimulates your curiosity to communicate with different people in their own language and the process will unconsciously allow you to sympathize and understand better people who try to speak your own language as foreigners. This way you will develop a higher degree of tolerance and acceptance of the differing views of other people. You accept better what you can understand and the process of learning a new language is an invitation to open your world to other worlds, enlarging your inner borders until you create bridges. You gain in wisdom, general knowledge and independence, as you are not closed in a self-defensive position. You open the windows of your spirit to a wider spirit: multiculturalism. If you truly create this inner capacity to share other people’s language, culture and ultimately experiences, you will become a citizen of the world. Nowadays it is almost inexcusable to close borders, when the world is a global village.
But there are advantages to consider other than the obvious personal ones. If you are sensible you will realize the tremendous benefits of learning another language. Eventually, you will experience professional benefits as all your efforts to master a new language will be an asset you take with you as a citizen and an employee. In fact, if you consider the possibility of studying abroad, or working abroad, knowing different languages is highly valued. In some countries where a second language is usually compulsory, like Portugal, job interviews are often conducted in English. Candidates who are not proficient or at least very good in the second language may lose their opportunity of getting the job or the internship they were aiming to achieve. In other words, candidates are expected to show their expertise in a field, showing at the same time their language skills. And this is a rule that cannot be ignored in most countries in Europe nowadays, neither should it be in English-speaking countries.
Another reason why people should be aware of the importance of enrolling in a foreign language is the fact that the world has become a global village and, although English is still the most widely spoken language, there are other emerging languages that are equally important, or are becoming more and more important every day, due to financial and economical reasons. In Europe, where learning a new language – sometimes two languages – is compulsory at a very early age, this awareness is governmental, therefore political. According to Androulla Vassiliou, commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, "Linguistic and cultural diversity is one of the European Union's major assets," and he justifies it by explaining the goal : "Language learning facilitates communication between peoples and countries, as well as encouraging cross-border mobility and the integration of migrants" and concludes by saying: "I am happy to see that even our youngest citizens are being exposed to the joys of discovering foreign languages. I also encourage people to look beyond the most widely-used languages so they can appreciate Europe's incredible linguistic diversity." It is easy to conclude that if you are not part of the global solution you may become part of the problem. Any resistance to accept a global pattern may have high costs in your future and even jeopardize unique chances. Therefore, encouraging people to learn with «joy» a new language is an invitation to build bridges, instead of walls, among all nations. As Charlemagne once put it «to have another language is to possess a second soul ».
It is curious to observe that, contrary to European and other countries’ policy towards languages, even official ones, «The U.S Constitution say nothing about language» according to Professor B. Spolsky. It is even more interesting to find the reasons why the U.S. attitude concerning, for example, bilingualism is not one of incentive and it is rather one of mistrust. After the I World War anti-German feelings lead to a high degree of xenophobia and the bigoted idea that teaching a second language at school was not a good idea. «Bilingualism was associated with inferior intelligence and lack of patriotism», explains Professor B. Spolsky, concluding that monolingualism became a rule. It was not before 1968 that The Bilingual Education Act opened a new road for the teaching of a second language, providing financial support for programs to teach students different languages. Unfortunately, after lots of ups and downs, this important Act expired in 2002, closing this precious assistance to help American students feel motivated to learn other languages. This restrictive policy is probably the reason why there is such a great mistrust and lack of appetite to develop linguistic knowledge among American students.
It is, therefore, not surprising that some people defend that learning a foreign language is not essential if you master English. However, I strongly disagree. Professional and personal challenges are becoming wider and more and more global. Young people’s mobility is endless and the capacity to adapt to a new language and culture may dictate a successful or unsuccessful future career. This way, learning a foreign language is an incentive to broaden your mind and prepare you for a very demanding future. Being stubborn is unwise. It can even be dangerous if it leaves you in a weaker position. English-speaking citizens are in a privileged position to rule the communication systems in the world, but being lazy and self indulgent in what concerns learning foreign languages may become a handicap. Most English-speaking business people believe they can do business with other countries in English, as those understand English or use interpreters. But they are often at a disadvantage in meetings where their business partners discuss details in their own language and they do not understand a single word. Also when they need to socialize they are often left aside as they cannot understand what is being said. Socializing is, however, a privileged way to study your business and learn a lot of useful details that may help you secure a contract or make sales. You cannot do it if you feel an outcast amongst people speaking a language you cannot grip.
You may also argue that you will never have to work abroad, as emigration is not in your plans. Therefore, you consider it is useless to learn a new language. But how can you predict your future? How do you know you will never need to cope with a sudden change in your destiny and be forced to move overseas? How can you be sure your company or enterprise won’t open a branch in Europe, Asia or Africa? Would you really miss the opportunity of being promoted, getting that ambitioned post, and becoming the new manager of a foreign company’s branch because you cannot or won’t accept to acknowledge the need to learn a foreign language? It is worth giving this point of view a thought the next time you claim there is no purpose in learning a new language.
All in all, I believe that there are several advantages that should be taken into account by anyone resisting learning a new language. They are practical, professional, personal, even emotional or intellectual, but all of them are signs to guide you and motivate you to grab the opportunity of learning a foreign language.
Even if the process is slow, even if there is some initial resistance, the final outcome is tremendously beneficial: knowing one or more foreign languages contributes to the promotion of intercultural dialogue and a much more inclusive society; it helps you fitting in any social environment, as your communicative skills improve and you can become a citizen of the world in personal, educational and professional terms.
Last but not least, any person resisting the obvious advantages already exposed, will certainly be able to recognize that knowledge – the information, facts, ideas, principles, skills acquired through experience or education – can never be looked as a drawback as it always means a better informed and a better prepared mind. Knowledge makes you travel farther and faster in your own development as a human being. And it is not a heavy luggage to carry. Just the opposite. The more you know – and learning a new language is what knowledge is all about – the stronger and at the same time lighthearted and free you become. Maybe that is the meaning of the French proverb that says: «a man who knows two languages is worth two men».
http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-12-990_en.htm- European Commission Press Release: «Children In Europe start learning foreign languages at an increasingly early age»
http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/digest_pdfs/does-the-us-needs-a-language-policy.pdf CALdigest – «Does The United States Need a Language Policy? » Bernard Spolsky, Professor Emeritus, Bar-Ilan University, Israel, 2010 Ferguson Fellow, Center for Applied Linguistics.
http://noviceinlanguageland.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/20-quotes-for-foreign-language-learners/ 20 Quotes for Foreign Language Learners, January 3, 2012