December is Learn a Foreign Language Month, and whether you grew up speaking multiple languages or just dabbled in high school, learning a foreign language is a rewarding experience. At my high school, two years of foreign language class was a requirement for graduation. I begrudgingly chose French over Spanish (I couldn’t roll my “r”s), German (it just sounds clunky), and Latin (it’s dead!). What I thought would be two years turned into four years of high school and a college minor that turned into a major in the middle of my first semester.
I fell in love with the language and culture of francophone nations and I wouldn’t trade the past six years for anything. My life goals now involve working in a French-speaking country, and because of the nature of modern language majors, my French class friends are with me every semester and know basically everything about my life. Although I can’t guarantee that you’ll fall head-over-heels as I did, there are still some pretty amazing and beneficial reasons to learn a foreign language. It’s never too late to start.
1. It opens doors.
Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “The limits of your language are the limits of your world.” Whether traveling for pleasure, work, or relocating to a different country, knowing another language helps you to blend in with the community. Most people in tourist destinations know English, but it shows respect to attempt to learn and speak their language. At TCU, knowing a second language increases your options for study abroad.
2. It makes it easier to learn a third language (or fourth or fifth).
A 2011 study from the University of Haifa found that bilingual people find it easier to learn a third language.
“Gaining command of a number of languages improves proficiency in native languages,” Prof. Abu-Rabia explained. “This is because languages reinforce one another, and provide tools to strengthen phonologic, morphologic and syntactic skills. These skills provide the necessary basis for learning to read. Our study has also shown that applying language skills from one language to another is a critical cognitive function that makes it easier for an individual to go through the learning process successfully.”
3. It makes finding a job easier.
According to Not Lost in Translation: U.S. Jobs Market Needs Foreign Language Skills, a 2017 article by the New American Economy Research Fund, demand for bilingual workers in the United States more than doubled between 2010 and 2015. The study also found that employers are increasingly looking for workers who can speak Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic — all languages you can learn at TCU! Even if you don’t want to specifically work abroad like me, being able to communicate with people from other countries is valuable in any industry.
4. It teaches you how to fail.
Even though I’ve been speaking French for six years, I’m still learning. There are many times in class when I use the wrong verb tense or can’t find the right words to say (more on that later). The other day, I couldn’t remember basic numbers! No matter how many mistakes I make, though, I am grateful for professors who continuously push me to improve and help me figure out where I went wrong.
5. It improves creativity.
In my time as a language learner, I have learned about the concept of “circumlocution.” Circumlocution basically means that you use different words to say what you want to say. For example, if in English I want to say “greedy”, but I don’t know the word in French, I might say (in French), “someone who wants everything and does not like to share.” This problem-solving translates to more than just languages as well.
6. It improves memory.
A 2010 study showed that bilingual Alzheimer’s patients had been diagnosed 4.3 years later and had reported the onset of symptoms 5.1 years later than the monolingual patients. As a college student, this doesn’t seem that pressing, but it goes to show that language learning truly has lifelong benefits
7. It improves your first language.
A final perk that I have noticed in my time as a French learner is that it has actually improved my English abilities! Learning a foreign language means learning basic grammar all over again. I have words for things like the subjunctive tense, which I didn’t realize existed in English before I learned what it was in French. Sometimes, when I’m figuring out what to say in either language, I translate it to see if it’ll make sense.
I hope this article has given you a window into what it’s like to learn another language and hopefully encouraged you to look into it yourself! If you want to schedule an intro class for this spring, check out the Modern Language Studies or Spanish and Hispanic Studies department pages for more info.