Learning a new language is tough, no doubt, but it is not impossible. It’s one of the most useful things you could do at any point of your life. It is easier the younger you are, but you have more access the older you are. Here are just some of the many reasons why learning a new language is not a waste of time.
Career opportunities and networking
Knowing a different language opens up many doors. There are a lot of jobs that are looking for employees who know more than one language, making you competitive in the work force. A lot of businesses are looking to expand internationally and want to hire employees who speak different languages to make that growth smoother. Many places like financial institutions, hospitals, and other places need translators to provide better service for customers or members that don’t speak English. Knowing another language also opens the door to a new network. Business is all about who you know, and being able to communicate with more people will broaden network opportunities.
Understanding the culture
Language is a major part of a culture. Popular phrases can tell you how direct people are or how literal they take things. A language can also illustrate how cultures operate. For example, in Spanish, having bad manners is literally translated as “not educated.” In Russian, to act with bad manners is literally translated as “not pretty.”
Learning a language can expose you to different literature, as well as a different outlooks on many things. It can expose you to a country’s history by being able to read their versions of published literature.
I was once at a market in a foreign country where I didn’t know the language. I was with a native and we were just looking around. When I found a ring I really liked and asked the shop owner, in English, how much the ring costs, the answer he gave me was four times as much as the answer he gave my friend in her native language. She pretended not to know me and bought the ring only to give it to me when we left. This is just one of the many times I experienced missing out while traveling because I didn’t know the language.
The smallest things can be easier and more enjoyable to do abroad when you are at least a little familiar with the language. When eating out, there’s space to ask waiters about recommendations, or when learning more about a city, it is easier to ask and understand locals. Transportation becomes easier and getting lost is more avoidable, which allows more time for exploring.
Getting better at your native language
When starting at zero, having to grasp a language word-by-word, and grammar rule-by-rule, you start to recognize the rules of your native language that you’ve been following- or not following- without even realizing it. Every language has rules and specifics that come so naturally when you use a language every day. Learning a new language could help you recognize those rules to improve grammar you may not have known needed improving.
How to start:
Learning a language requires patience and persistence. I am fluent in English and Russian and have been on a slow journey to proficiently learn Spanish. There are a lot of different ways to learn a language. The most important thing to remember is that like many other things, it will be hard before it will get easier and the only way to battle that is to keep practicing.
Take a class
There are four parts to learning a language. Speaking and listening but also reading and writing. Taking a class is one way to practice all four of these skills and you’ll meet new people who are doing the same. Taking a class will also provide you with many resources like books, a professor who has a lot of knowledge on the language, and both can create new opportunities. Sometimes taking a language class can get dry, so it’s not everyone’s preferred way to master a language.
Make a friend
People all around you speak different languages, and another person is the best resource you have. Ask friends, family, or anyone in your network if they know someone who is either proficient in a language you want to learn or is also learning the language you’re learning. Just speaking to them will help you practice speaking and hearing. You could also find a pen pal. Using the language to communicate by mail will help with the reading and writing skills of that language.
This is of course not the easiest thing to do, but if the opportunity presents itself, it is the best way to master a language. Take a trip, study abroad, or visit the closest town that speaks the language you’re learning. I spent a week volunteering in a Russian speaking community in Argentina. After that week, my Russian was the most intricate it has ever been and my English almost developed an accent. The best thing you can do when learning a language is practice every day. Build on what you learned the day before so you can constantly expand your knowledge and get better.
My parents learned English in their mid-twenties when they moved to the United States. They did this by watching English cartoons they already knew, with English subtitles, so they would see and hear English simultaneously and recognize it when they needed to communicate.
Resources like this are everywhere. Checking out a book at the library, watching a video online, or using a phone app are all ways you can pick up a language from your own home. A few minutes a day can make you proficient over time.