Elias Pelcastre

Second Language Learning

The boss of the company I worked for in China once told me that there was little point in learning additional languages because fairly soon we would have computers that could “do all of that for us.” Needless to say, he had lived in China for over a decade and was pretty much stuck on 你好. Maybe 你好吗? But little beyond that, something that I think is quite an amazing feat. However, I never really understood the “do it all for us.”  Translate a passage accurately? Maybe, unlikely though. Negotiate with hawkers in markets? Direct an irate taxi driver? Understand a new phrase that most of the native speakers are yet to acquaint themselves? I can quite confidently say not.

Although I only lived in China for some months, the language fascinated me. Not just because of the beautiful characters or hilarious idioms, but because of the way it was so clearly entwined in their culture. I had never before interacted with a language so fundamentally different that my own. I loved listening to people speak: it was so expressive it fitted in with the mood of Chengdu and made me want to be a part of it.

Learning foreign languages is so important; being able to interact with locals improves any travel experience, but it also opens up new opportunities to live and work abroad, as knowledge of the native tongue is often a prerequisite. It also improves decision-making skills, the ability to switch between different tasks, and makes you smarter and more decisive. It exercises and develops matter in the brain and improves its functionality, while improving your understanding of your native tongue.

Unfortunately for native Anglophones (I think), the world is becoming more English orientated. For speakers of any other language, it is a natural second language to learn, meaning a lot of people, from Europe to Asia are desperate to practice the language with a native speaker. Half of the world will speak English by 2050. However, that does also leave billions who do not, complacency will not always be effective.

“Why is the ‘ei’ in height and weight pronounced differently?,” my Italian friend asks me. A fervent linguist, I knew that “just, because,” was not going to pacify her. Unfortunately, I did not have a better answer. (Google it – it is interesting). Foreign languages open your mind as well as being an incredible investment in your future. Plus, everything you read will always sound better in its native tongue. I hope I have convinced you.