Why Learn a Second Language?

There is more to knowing a second language than just the possibility of carrying on a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak English. There is more than just the possibility of travel to exotic places and being able to mingle with the locals.

Learning a second language offers an amazing glimpse into the way people in other cultures think and process information. It has the side effect of knocking the learner out of the center of the universe. We discover that it is okay that someone else has a different way of looking at things. It is a fascinating and delightful experience to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Learning a second language makes this possible.

“I have ten years.”

Here in Canada, French isn’t exactly a foreign language in that it’s an official language of Canada. It is, however, foreign to the many school-age children who have spent the first years of their lives hearing little or no French.

One of the earliest twists that young students encounter is the strange way that the French express a person’s age. In English we say, “I am ten years old.” In French, the same idea is expressed as “J’ai dix ans.” This translates literally as “I have ten years,” which doesn’t convey the same meaning in English at all.

French also uses avoir (to have) to express hunger and thirst.
“I am hungry” is “J’ai faim.” (I have hunger.)
“I am thirsty” is “J’ai soif.” (I have thirst.)

The idea is the same, but the way of expressing it is different. And that is perfectly okay! Communication is more that just words. We communicate in ideas that often go beyond the words used to express them. This is an eye-opening concept at any age, but especially for children. Learning to accept a different means of expression for a similar idea means increased understanding toward others in general. We could all use a little more understanding!

You just never know!

Philosophical musings aside, you just never know when knowing another language might be useful. A relative of mine has always been a talented athlete. As a teenager, he earned a hockey scholarship to Princeton, the prestigious American university. He later went on to play professional hockey in Europe. I don’t imagine that as a young boy he was sitting in his grade school French classes thinking, “Yes! This will be really useful when I am playing pro hockey in Europe!” But that is the way things worked out. You just never know.

Knowing a second language can open up a world of career possibilities. With the world getting smaller every day, people in more and more industries are travelling as part of their jobs. Second language training looks great on any rsum and might make the difference between getting that dream job and settling for your second choice.

With all of the practical reasons to study a foreign language, it also has to be said that language is fascinating for its own sake. After studying the quirks of someone else’s language, we are able to see the strangeness of our own. Growth in understanding, possibilities for travel, and greater choices in life are just some of the benefits of learning a second language.

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