By Leonardo De Valoes, Adjunct Faculty
Language impacts the daily lives of members of any race, creed, and region of the world. Language helps express our feelings, desires, and queries to the world around us. Words, gestures and tone are utilized in union to portray a broad spectrum of emotion. The unique and diverse methods human beings can use to communicate through written and spoken language is a large part of what allows to harness our innate ability to form lasting bonds with one another; separating mankind from the rest of the animal kingdom.
The importance of communication is often overlooked. Despite our great prowess in communication, misunderstandings and mistranslations are commonplace. It is arrogant to believe that one can travel the world and expect all of mankind to understand his or her native tongue. In order to travel the world, whether for business or pleasure, a desire and willingness to adapt to new cultures and methods is necessary. Adaptability, of course, includes the ability to communicate with new people in various dialects. Being unable to communicate in a country is akin to living with a serious impairment; it is very difficult and near impossible, to adapt and get along with new people if there is no way to communicate with one another.
Additionally, the ability to communicate in multiple languages is becoming more and more important in the increasingly integrated global business community. Communicating directly with new clients and companies in their native language is one of the first steps to founding a lasting, stable international business relationship. Being able to do this automatically puts any multilingual person miles ahead of his or her peers in the competition for jobs and high-prestige positions. Language is such a key aspect to setting up children for success in their future professional endeavors that high schools across the nation and in almost every Western country require at least two years of a foreign language. Most institutions offer opportunities to learn a foreign language at even earlier ages. In recent years, psychologists such as Agnes Kovacs have studied the intelligence and mental capacity of young bilingual children in comparison to monolingual children. As noted in the article Why Bilinguals Are Smarter by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee of the New York Times, the author states, “The collective evidence from a number of such studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks.” Furthermore, by instilling a reverence for foreign language at a young age, parents put their children miles ahead of their future competitors.
The impact of multilingualism can be traced to even more fields. A doctor who can communicate with his or her patient in their native tongue is much more likely to have success at diagnosing them. A scientist or engineer capable of explaining his findings and ideas to his peers will be able to expedite and perfect their work, even if his peers could not understand him in his first language. Any hiring manager in any company in the world would tell you that the ability to speak a foreign language is a prized commodity. Learning to communicate fluently in multiple languages provides additional job security and advancement opportunities in uncertain economic times.
In order to prepare our nation’s children to be the next generation of future entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists, engineers, or whatever influential job they choose, we must foster an environment from a young age that promotes multilingual learning. Through this we are setting up ourselves, our children, and our children’s children, for growth, success, security, and ultimately, prosperity.
Therefore, it is up to you to create a warm and comfortable environment in which your child can grow to learn the complexities of language. The communication skills that your child learns early in life will be the foundation for his or her communication abilities for the future. Strong language skills are an asset that will promote a lifetime of effective communication.
I have always been interested in languages. I have traveled to over 125 countries in the last twenty years and have recently published a book series entitled, Our Beautiful World. Our language is the most important part of our being. I think it is important to learn other languages, other forms of communication besides our own because it helps us to learn about other peoples and cultures. The most important one, however, that we can learn is our own mother tongue as this is one of the most basic parts of our identity. If we were to lose our own tongue, for example, if we were to grow up in a country which is not our own, someplace that is not our home, in my opinion, we would be losing a part of ourselves.
What can you expect? You will learn a second language in exciting new ways, using technology and focusing on communication. Learning a language is not just learning grammar and vocabulary; it is learning new sounds, expressions, and ways of seeing things;
Should you continue language study after high school? Yes! Don’t waste your investment of time and effort; whatever you have learned is a foundation for further study. Stick with it. Use your second language on the job; seek out opportunities to use it in your community; in college, take more courses, study abroad at intersession or for a summer, a semester, or a year.
More and more businesses work closely with companies in other countries. They need many different kinds of workers who can communicate in different languages and understand other cultures. No matter what career you choose, if you’ve learned a second language, you’ll have a real advantage. A technician who knows Russian or German, the head of a company who knows Japanese or Spanish, or a salesperson who knows French or Chinese can work successfully with many more people and in many more places than someone who knows only one language.
Many English speakers seem to believe that wherever you go on holiday you can get by speaking English, so there’s no point in learning any other languages. If people don’t understand you all you have to do is speak slowly and turn up the volume. You can more or less get away with this, as long as you stick to popular tourist resorts and hotels where you can usually find someone who speaks English. However, if you want to venture beyond such places, to get to know the locals, to read signs, menus, etc, knowing the local language is necessary.
Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages.
If you and some of your relatives, friends or colleagues speak a language that few people understand, you can talk freely in public without fear of anyone eavesdropping, and/or you can keep any written material secret. Speakers of such Native American languages as Navajo, Choctaw and Cheyenne served as radio operators, know as Code Talkers, to keep communications secret during both World Wars. Welsh speakers played a similar role during the Bosnian War.
Maybe you’re interested in the literature, poetry, films, TV programs, music or some other aspect of the culture of people who speak a particular language and want to learn their language in order to gain a better understanding of their culture.
Most people in the world are multilingual, and everybody could be; no one is rigorously excluded from another’s language community except through lack of time and effort. Different languages protect and nourish the growth of different cultures, where different pathways of human knowledge can be discovered. They certainly make life richer for those who know more than one of them.
(Nicholas Ostler, Empires of the Word)
If your family spoke a particular language in the past you might want to learn it and possibly teach it to your children. It could also be useful if you are research your family tree and some of the documents you find are written in a language foreign to you.
- Foreign Language study creates more positive attitudes and less prejudice toward people who are different.
- Analytical skills improve when students study a foreign language.
- Business skills plus foreign language skills make an employee more valuable in the marketplace.
- Dealing with another culture enables people to gain a more profound understanding of their own culture.
- Creativity is increased with the study of foreign languages.
- Graduates often cite foreign language courses as some of the most valuable courses in college because of the communication skills developed in the process.
- International travel is made easier and more pleasant through knowing a foreign language.
- Skills like problem solving, dealing with abstract concepts, are increased when you study a foreign language.
- Foreign language study enhances one’s opportunities in government, business, medicine, law, technology, military, industry, marketing, etc.
- A second language improves your skills and grades in math and English and on the SAT and GRE.
- Four out of five new jobs in the US are created as a result of foreign trade.
- Foreign languages provide a competitive edge in career choices: one is able to communicate in a second language.
- Foreign language study enhances listening skills and memory.
- One participates more effectively and responsibly in a multi-cultural world if one knows another language.
- Your marketable skills in the global economy are improved if you master another language.
- Foreign language study offers a sense of the past: culturally and linguistically.
- The study of a foreign tongue improves the knowledge of one’s own language: English vocabulary skills increase.
- The study of foreign languages teaches and encourages respect for other peoples: it fosters an understanding of the interrelation of language and human nature.
- Foreign languages expand one’s view of the world, liberalize one’s experiences, and make one more flexible and tolerant.
- Foreign languages expand one’s world view and limit the barriers between people: barriers cause distrust and fear.
- Foreign language study leads to an appreciation of cultural diversity.
- As immigration increases we need to prepare for changes in the American society.
- One is at a distinct advantage in the global market if one is as bilingual as possible.
- Foreign languages open the door to art, music, dance, fashion, cuisine, film, philosophy, science…
- Foreign language study is simply part of a very basic liberal education: to “educate” is to lead out, to lead out of confinement and narrowness and darkness.