Friday, 22 March 2013

Why learning a language is one of the best things you can do

A long (long) time ago, I did a degree in Hispanic Studies and spent a year living in Madrid. Looking back on it now, I can't quite believe some of the things I did while I was there: finding somewhere to live, negotiating the return of my deposit from the terrifying landladies (elderly sisters who lived downstairs) when I found somewhere better to live, taking classes at university, writing exams and - scariest of all - getting a haircut (I can barely explain what I want done in English, let alone Spanish).

But unfortunately I haven't really kept it up in the ten years since then, and these days although I'm still reasonably comfortable reading and writing Spanish, I've lost all confidence in my ability to have a conversation - which, in turn prevents me from practising. It's a bit of a vicious circle. And it's sad because it's an incredibly useful skill to have.

There seems to be a belief among native speakers of English that it's not necessary to learn any other languages, because our own is so widely spoken. A recent study conducted as part of the European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC) found that out of 14 countries across Europe, teenagers in England ranked worst in language learning. And yesterday it was reported that while more English fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds are taking languages at GCSE than two years ago because of changes in the education system, only one in ten of these go on to study them after the age of sixteen. But the fact is that although English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, there are still great opportunities to be had for those of us who are willing to make the effort to learn a different one, and it's a fantastic way to stand out from the crowd. Here are just some of the reasons learning a language is one of the best things you can do.
GET A JOB

Firstly, and probably most obviously, a second (or third) language on your CV looks good, especially if you're applying for a job with an international company. It means you can talk to clients from other countries and close business deals overseas, and it also makes a good talking point at interview, especially if the language you're learning is a bit unusual. And it shows that you've had the determination to learn it; you don't just know another language overnight and to reach the point where you can honestly say you speak it with any degree of fluency takes effort. The fact that you've put in that effort and stuck with it looks good to a potential employer.

CLOSE THE DEAL

Speaking of business deals, a lot of people think English is the language of international commerce. But how much more impressive does it look to a potential client if you can hold the negotiations in their own language? Between you and another rep, who's offering an equally good deal but hasn't shown them the same respect by learning a little of their language, they're much more likely to choose you.

SEE THE WORLD

Knowing another language gives you opportunities to travel, live and work abroad, and you're more likely to be accepted by the locals if you can at least manage a few words in their language. You'll look less like an arrogant foreigner and more like someone who genuinely wants to be a part of their country and culture. It'll also enable you to stand on your own two feet and not be dependent on others to translate for you, which means you'll get more out of the experience too.

MEET YOUR PERFECT PARTNER

You never know who you're going to meet when you go travelling - you might meet that special someone and even if they speak English, that's no reason why you shouldn't learn their language too. Not only that, but if you have met someone from another country, either on holiday or at home, you'll want to impress their family - they could be in your in-laws one day! It looks great to your boyfriend's mum if you can greet her in her own language, and you're much more likely to be accepted and welcomed into the family than someone who didn't bother.

MAKE FRIENDS

And finally, learning a language is about communication, and as such it's quite a sociable skill. You wouldn't expect to go to a French class and not speak to anyone. Even if you're learning at home on your own, at some point you're going to use what you know in conversation - otherwise why bother? So just the very fact that you're learning is going to broaden your social circle, helping you meet new people and make friends with whom you share a common interest.

There are lots of other reasons to learn a language: it helps you understand your own language better; it improves your memory; it means you can understand what they're singing about at the opera. But the main point is this - learning a language opens doors that might otherwise have stayed firmly shut. It's a way to be noticed and appreciated by employers, colleagues, clients, friends and more-than-friends. And it's also really fun! So maybe it's time I get over my fear and start practising my Spanish again...

Hasta luego!