If you struggled through required foreign language courses in high school or college, you probably shuddered when you read the above headline. Or maybe you don’t mind the idea, but you don’t see how you could find enough time. Others of you may be wondering, “What’s the point?” Don’t most people speak English these days?
English language has dominance
Yes, it is true that the English language has dominance as the current business language of the world. According to the British Council, two billion people will be studying English by the year 2020. The online language training company, EF Education First, reports that there are 1.6 million online English test-takers in more than 50 countries. In China, more people are studying the English language than in any other non-native speaking country. China actively recruits English teachers of all backgrounds and experience levels for its schools, and some 100,000 native English speakers are teaching there.
More than 50 percent of Europeans speak more than one language. By contrast, only about 18% of Americans speaking a language other than English. Therefore, learning a second (or third) language is a tangible way you can distinguish yourself in our global business world.
Reasons why you should learn a foreign language
Career growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for translators and interpreters are expected to grow by 46 percent by 2020, a rate much faster than other professions. Some studies, in fact, reveal that people entering the workforce with second language fluency can expect up to 15 percent in pay.
Many companies have an international presence today. Having staff members who speak a client’s or a colleague’s native language helps to break down cultural barriers and to allow everyone to feel more at ease. We all think in our native tongue, or heart language, so speaking the same language can work to develop and broaden business relationships – even if those co-workers, customers or vendors also speak English.
Many career consultants encourage job seekers to feature their language skills prominently on their resumes.
Enhances Cognitive Skills. Learning another language can help your brain work better. In a 2012 study, researchers from Sweden’s Lund University found that studying another language increases the function of the brain’s cerebral cortex, which controls reasoning, planning, memory and visual processing.
For the study, scientists separated Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy recruits into two groups. One group had no prior second language knowledge but spent a period of 13 months learning the Arabic, Dari and Russian languages. The other group studied subjects other than languages during the same time period. Both groups received before and after brain scans that revealed noticeable differences in the language studying group.
Other studies show that language learning can enlarge the hippocampus, which helps with long-term memory development, and can help to reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s’ disease. Scientists describe learning a language as giving your brain a work-out. Language learning and new vocabulary acquisition in general helps your brain to form new neurons and connections.
Much of the exciting research on language learning has been done on children. A 2011 study lead by York University’s Ellen Bialystok, for example, found that children who had between five and 10 years of exposure to a second language, averaged higher scores on tests in cognitive performance and had greater focus, decision-making skills, judgment and responsiveness to feedback than children who spoke only one language.
Cultural benefits. Learning another language broadens you personally and enables you to have a deeper appreciation of another culture. Knowing even the basic vocabulary of another country when you travel can make your travel more enjoyable and interesting.
When you know the native language, you will be able to delve better into the arts of a foreign country. You will be better able to understand and appreciate song lyrics, menu descriptions, museum descriptions and, of course, conversations.
Okay, let’s say you’re convinced. Now you may be wondering what language you should learn and how should you begin to learn it.
As to what language, you would do well to examine your professional goals. Do you want to broaden your business globally? What countries fit your demographic the best? Keep in mind that Mandarin – at more than 14 percent — ranks first as the native language spoken by the most people in the world. Spanish is second, as the native language of 6.15 percent of the world’s population. English is third at 5.43 percent; Hindi is fourth at 4.7 percent with Arabic close behind at 4.4 percent.
Despite what many language learning companies will tell you, there is no one sure-fire way to learn a language. As you might expect, different methods work for different people. Most language programs do agree that daily lessons and conversational practice with a native speaker help the process. A native speaker will help you learn correct pronunciation as well as the meanings and correct usage of any idioms.
While language learning used to only mean classroom instruction or listening to recorded lectures, the Internet offers a wide array of opportunities, ranging from online classes to personal tutors who connect with students via Skype. Many community colleges and four-year institutions offers foreign language classes designed with working professionals and their busy schedules in mind.