Whether we are conscious of it or not, our world is largely multilingual. With over half of the world’s population using more than one language in everyday life and globalisation only increasing, the usefulness of being able to communicate with people around the world is now becoming a necessity. The skills and opportunities that are entangled within an understanding of language go much farther beyond a knowledge of grammar and syntax. This value has been increasingly apparent in terms of financial gains, but there are many social and personal opportunities not to be overlooked.
Our fundamental understanding of the world largely relies upon how we understand and use language. How we think about ourselves and others, the world around us, our past and our future, how we want our lives to look are all vital aspects of our being are all shaped and shifted by how our system of language functions. Speaking more than one language within itself changes how you view and interact with the world around you. Language is largely intertwined with culture, attitudes, and behaviours, so when you switch from one language to another, your perspective and views switch as well.
Along with the perspectives language provides us with, we also carry intensive amounts of cultural capital when we speak a language effectively. This means that we are given the tools to succeed in our society that are beyond merely having money. We tend to disregard these skills in our everyday lives because they are so vital to our daily survival.
Take a moment to think about your day today. How many times did you need to interact with others? How many times did you need to understand the actions of someone around you? How many times did you need to help or work with someone else? Each of these moments relies upon both of you understanding one another’s needs and views in order to be successful. Can you imagine your day without that understanding? Our cultural capital and language allow us to effectively portray ourselves to others, so we are understood. They also help us to connect with other humans, create community, understand and express humour, have intellectual interactions, and feel that we are valued members in our society.
When we learn a new language, we only increase our ability to connect with others. We can establish deep connections and cross-cultural relationships, expanding our view on the world and our understanding of people who are different from us. We can also understand ourselves more deeply by getting an outsider’s perspective on our own culture by taking stock of the habits and understandings we typically take for granted.
So, why can’t we all just speak the same language? While this sounds like a simple solution, one that has become increasingly popularised with people moving across cultural and language borders nearly constantly, this would be a tragic outcome of our unwillingness to take the time to understand and value one another for our differences and our individuality.
Due to globalisation and the spreading of Westernised (largely English-speaking) ideals, we are now walking a path that is actively and quickly killing languages that have not been allowed the space to remain relevant or valued. Over the past century, around 400 languages have become extinct. That is one every three months. These languages represent the history, culture, way of life, and the roots of a society. These aspects are now lost and will most likely not return.
Why should we learn new languages? Aside from the obvious doors that can be opened to you, speaking more than one language also works to keep your brain healthy and functional, protecting against dementia while improving your memory and attention span.
We’ve all been told that we should try to learn another language, but it gets more difficult as we age and it’s too hard to be worth it, right? While some aspects of learning a language (or any new skill for that matter,) may become more difficult when we are older, others become easier! Our vocabularies are much larger as adults, which allows us to more readily learn the amount of vocabulary needed to speak fluently in another language as well as picking up the rules that govern grammar and syntax.
If you need a few more reasons to begin learning a new language, take a look at these 12 reasons everyone should learn another language and if you’re thinking about starting, definitely check out these 10 tips and tricks to learn any language as well as How to Learn a New Language: 7 Secrets From TED translators
Learning a new language is difficult, yes, but the life-altering value far outweighs the challenge. It will not happen overnight, this is a process and a practice in patience. You will find yourself misunderstanding, misunderstood, confused, and frustrated many times. Such feelings are rarely felt when we are within our primary language. Learning a new language provides endless moments of humility and introspection, where we have the opportunity to be pushed outside of our comfort zone and this is where our most intensive and valuable growth happens. Remember to be patient with yourself and others. Take it day by day, step by step and remind yourself that you are making the effort, you are trying to learn a new skill and that is an incredible aim.
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