The BBC estimates that there are up to 7000 languages spoken across the world today: some, such as Mandarin Chinese, have many speakers, whilst others are spoken by only one person! The European Day of Languages, founded by the Conseil de l’Europe (Council of Europe) in Strasbourg, is a day to celebrate languages and promote the learning of languages around the world.
In the UK, there is a widely held view that there is no need to learn another language, simply because English has become a global language. Although French, German and Spanish (amongst others) are taught in schools across the country, language learning is in decline; fewer students are choosing to study languages at GCSE and A-Level, and as a result even fewer are continuing their language studies at university. Here are 7 reasons why you should study a language . . .
1. It opens up a wealth of new opportunities . . .
. . . including the possibility of further study, a year abroad (which, contrary to popular opinion, isn’t just for language students) and higher employability prospects. Those who speak a foreign language are reported to earn more than their non-language-speaking counterparts. Knowledge of another European language is also a necessity for certain jobs within EU institutions. If you’re in need of further inspiration, just look at how successful some language learners have become: Kristin Scott-Thomas, for one, is so convincingly French it’s hard to believe she’s actually British.
2. You’ll be able to watch films without the subtitles . . .
. . . because, let’s face it, no one actually likes having to read subtitles. It’s infinitely better being able to watch a foreign language film (and understand it) without the need for subtitles. Plus, as a language learner, it ranks pretty highly on the “proudest language learning moments” scale when you manage to finally watch a film and understand it all without the subtitles (for me, said film was La Famille Bélier.) For any learners of French, here’s my list of unmissable French films.
3. You no longer need to be “an idiot abroad” . . .
. . . which will not only save you embarrassment, but will also earn you brownie points with the locals. It doesn’t matter if you only know a few words, or are practically fluent – I can say from experience that they’ll appreciate that you’re trying. Speaking some of the language when you’re abroad is also very helpful if you experience a problem, want to negotiate a price (especially on taxi fares!) or if you need to make someone aware that you have an allergy or illness.
4. There are endless resources to help you . . .
. . . from dictionaries to language learning apps and from traditional textbooks to pen-pal schemes, there is a lot of material out there ready for you to start using! A dictionary is an essential tool for learning vocabulary; I recently bought a French-English visual dictionary to help me as I find it much easier to associate words with images. If you have Netflix, you can watch many shows in different languages, or add subtitles to them to develop your reading skills. There are also countless websites dedicated to language learning – I’ve just started learning Cantonese, using this website as a starting point. If you don’t know which language you should learn, read this article for some suggestions.
5. You can make friends from around the world . . .
. . . and more friends is always a good thing, right? Last year I was an English Language Assistant, as part of the British Council’s assistantship programme, and I met people from around the world including other assistants from Germany, the USA, Canada and Argentina alongside teaching exchange students from Korea and Australia. There are traditional pen-pal schemes which enable you to get in touch with others around the world, alongside digital alternatives using Skype. Interacting with other language learners often gives you extra motivation to further develop your skills!
6. You’ll develop a better understanding of your own language . . .
. . . which is always helpful, especially when doing academic writing. Learning another language provides you with a better understanding of how your native language is formed: you’ll discover the grammatical intricacies of language, develop a more advanced vocabulary and have some fun learning utterly bonkers idioms! Learning Latin in my first year at university not only helped me develop my understanding of the etymology of certain English words, but also increased my awareness of where the French language had evolved from.
7. It’s an enjoyable experience . . .
. . . and one which you won’t regret. Although there are times when you wonder if you’ll ever be able to use the subjunctive, master all the different conjugations of verbs and know the word for hedgehog, the language learning journey is one which offers unparalleled gratification. As a language learner, things don’t get much better than being able to successfully interact with others from a different country whilst having an understanding of their society and culture.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that it’s never too late to start learning a new language: anyone is capable of learning a language, the trick is to find out which one suits you. Identify your reasons for wanting to learn a particular language: if you want to learn it to achieve a specific goal, your chances of success are higher.