It may not be entirely evident at the beginning of your foreign language textbook why learning a foreign language would be valuable at all. It’s difficult to quantify the value of learning a new language, although there have been many studies that show a trend in the earning potential of foreign language candidates. But if you are a native English speaker, you already possess a language with the highest earning potential in the job market. What then, is the value of learning a foreign language?
First and foremost if you are a native English speaker, it is your proficiency and understanding of the nuances of the English language. If you were like me, English during elementary and high school was not the most exciting of subjects, and you probably glossed over the grammatical rules and etiquette. Naturally, as a native speaker, you aren’t always keen on the “how” and the “why” of the way you speak. With the study of foreign language, however, you develop an acute awareness of proper English grammar that ultimately aids in your speaking skills and especially writing skills. With the majority of the population in the U.S. texting and writing fragmented emails and short messages, it is becoming apparent that our English writing skills need more work.
Another advantage for students of foreign language is the opportunity to expand their existing vocabulary of the English language. For anyone that is studying or has taken the GRE for graduate school, you know how essential your vocabulary will be in passing the exam. Many words in the romance languages have similar roots. I doubt you will be using ameliorate on a day-to-day basis, but it’s similarity to migliorare in Italian makes it easy to pick up on those GRE words.
Perhaps English grammar was not your forte in grade school and continues to be the thorn in your side to this day. For those looking for other reasons to learn a foreign language, the best benefit is the joy of travel. Think of the breadth of opportunities for travel with the Spanish language in South America. French and English will give you access to the majority of countries in Africa and the Middle East if you don’t already know Arabic. There is something to be said about ordering food in a native tongue rather than trying to force English out from a non-native speaker. Whether or not you are an ace in the respective language, the best way you can connect with people and their culture is through language.
If you’ve ever been to a foreign country where you didn’t speak the language, think of the relief you find when someone speaks English and helps you out. The same holds true when you help foreigners in your respective country. I had just finished an audition and was grabbing a snack at a local cafe to decompress when a charming couple from Argentina asked for directions. To their surprise, I responded in Spanish, and one conversation unfolded the beauty of their culture and they appreciated my cultural sensitivity. A lot of doors can open if you keep your cultural empathy in tune through language.
Foreign language also helps to expand the mind in terms of gathering a broader view in world news. If you get your news from one or many English language sources, you have a skewed view of the world from your seat. Think of how great it would be to read the news of a country in that respective language. My guess is you will find out a lot more information that is pertinent, and often missed in other translations.
Whether you are fretting over numerous conjugations or deciding which of the three Japanese alphabets best suit the sentence, you will find that many opportunities will open up to you as you learn a foreign language, even on the domestic front. Take a chance to get to know your neighbors by sitting down for a chat with the locals!