IN THE 21ST CENTURY, WHY DO PEOPLE STILL LEARN LANGUAGES?

When you are forced to stay at home, you have plenty of time to think. You may contemplate your life, reflect on who you are and what you have done so far. You may ponder your future and try to predict what it will be like. You may seek to figure out why certain things are the way they are. And me? Well, I can’t help but wonder why people still decide to learn foreign tongues.

In today’s world we have everything at our fingertips. Quite literally. The 21st century has brought a plethora of gadgets, solutions, and technologies. Sometimes I think that we no longer have to use our brains, because our fancy smartphones and computers can help us out in any situation. Which is bad; really, really bad.

There are, however, people who still prefer to rely on themselves. Sure, you can use a calculator, but you can’t deny that it’s advisable to be able to do at least basic arithmetic by hand. You can take advantage of the satnav in your phone, but when the battery is dead, the ability to read a map is just priceless. You can depend on translation apps, but again, when you’re without your phone, your language skills turn out to be your best friend. Because what you have in your head, as well as what you can do with your hands (excuse the pun), can never be replaced by any piece of technology.

The ability to communicate freely with people all over the world is the main reason why so many of us choose to learn a language. While it’s ok to use a helpful app on holiday – to order a glass of wine or buy a ticket to the museum – it’s rather impossible to have a proper discussion with another human being using this method. Conversation is an exchange of words – it’s an action-reaction thing. There is no time for the phone to work its magic. Especially, that some information may easily get lost in translation. The better you speak the language, the lesser the chance this will happen.

This leads us to reason number two – learning a language to get to know the culture.

It is no secret that language and culture are like two sides of a coin – one does not exist without the other. So it’s only natural that people who are interested in a particular country or region want to be able to fully understand its culture. And speaking the language is one of the ways to achieve that. Let me give you an example here. If I wasn’t learning Marshallese, I would have absolutely no idea that there are several words for coconut (specifying different stages of growth) and even more coconut-related terms that people in the country actually use because it is connected with their ways of being. Without this knowledge, I would be looking at the Marshallese culture through the window. But thanks to it, I can look at that culture through the open door. Which has an added benefit a lot of people tend to forget about.

We live in a global world, where we are more interconnected than ever before. Companies from the UK do business in Australia; from France in the UAE; and of course everyone does business in China. This means that people with language skills and cross-cultural competency are much needed on the job market. As speaking a foreign tongue makes us more aware of the culture, the equation is easy – you know a language, you are more valuable as an employee. So the reason number three is simply work. A good command of a foreign tongue yields plenty of opportunities in nearly all industries. It’s not only for translators or teachers; it is for everyone. It gives you an enormous advantage, because knowing a language is one of those skills that will never fall out of fashion.

I could go on and on and give you many more reasons why people decide to take up a language. Quite frankly, I even dare say that there are as many reasons as there are people in the world. It seems that we just want to do that, we want to broaden our horizons. And no amount of new technologies will ever change that. At least that’s what I – a true lingo fanatic with a list of reasons of my own – hope.


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