5 Surprising Reasons To Learn Foreign Languages (Other Than English)

When I talk to people about foreign languages a lot of them is surprised that I know three. Why? Wasn’t I too lazy for this? English isn’t enough?

Probably it would be enough to communicate when I travel, at work, to read Internet or to write this blog. English is necessary nowadays. And for many people it is the only language worth knowing.

For me learning languages is not an obligation. It’s fun. It’s a weird hobby – some people like biking, others skydive and bake cakes – and I like mountains, travels and foreign languages 🙂 In addition to my native Polish language I speak English, Russian and French and I plan to learn at least two more – Spanish and Italian.

But why? Why is it fun?

Practical point of view is obvious – more languages give me more opportunities on job market and make travelling easier. But knowing foreign languages, especially less popular than English gave me benefits I didn’t expect. And value they give me keeps surprising me.

Why to learn foreign languages other than English?

why to learn foreign languages

1. You realize that languages aren’t 100% complete

In each and every language you can find words and expressions which don’t exist in others. You find expressions which you subconsciously missed in your mother tongue. Simultaneously you start appreciating your native language’s nuances.

How many times French “et voila” would help me to end a stream of words in which even I lost the point. How poor all other languages are without a Polish word “kombinować” which can be explained as “to always look for a solution to a problem even in the most unexpected, not necessarily legit ways”. How flat all relationships sound in English when everybody you know is called “a friend” with no indication how close the friendship is. On the other hand, how often I feel like using an English word in a Polish sentence because I can’t find an equivalent. I think then that expressing your thoughts in English is easier.

But it’s not true.

Each language is different – it developed in different conditions and culture, that’s where the diversity comes from. It’s worth learning it and using it.

why to learn foreign languages

2. You will meet people you wouldn’t and see the perspective you would miss otherwise

Speaking English you can spend time with young people in many countries. They can talk to you – better or worse. Often these are people similar to you – curious of the world, dreaming of travels, brave, with open minds.

What about older people who have never learnt English? About people who are too scared to speak English, who never left their region?

These people look at the world differently. They react differently to what they hear in TV, speak differently about politics, about what’s good and bad for the country, about values. Their life is different.

why to learn foreign languages

Will the tourist coming to Poland be able to “get to know the country” after talking to me? Partly yes. But will it be a full experience without a possibility to talk to people of my grandparents’ age who grew up in the whole different Poland and who were shaped by its difficult reality?

Would I think of Russia the same way if I only talked to young people saying openly that they don’t accept Putin’s politics? If I haven’t seen older people nod during his exposes, hear them say he knows what’s good for Russia and how to protect it from destructive influence of the USA and Western Europe?

If it hadn’t been for the language I would lose the possibility to watch these differences.

why to learn foreign languages

3. You will become a part of a new group of people

They say that if you talk to a man in a language he understands, this goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart. If you meet a person coming from a country which language you learn, you broke your language barrier and you’re not afraid to talk – you will enjoy getting to know each other a lot. You have a topic to discuss immediately. Native speaker will be impressed you learn his language and he’ll be surprised – why? Since when are you learning? Was it difficult?

The same with other Poles. When you meet a new person who knows the same foreign language as you (other than English), you immediately develop a connection. Is there anything that brings people together more efficiently than complaining about this shitty pronunciation, the incomprehensible subjonctif or an accent which can change the meaning of words…? 🙂

why to learn foreign languages

4. You will partly understand related languages which you’ve never learned

If you learn more languages you learn to recognize familiar words in a set of completely incomprehensible sounds. The more languages you know the bigger your vocabulary and knowledge of various word families.

Even though learning French or Russian didn’t help me understand Hungarian or Mandarin Chinese – I am able to get the sense of a slow conversation in Spanish or realize when Latino guys at work make fun of me 🙂 I can understand most of the written text without Google’s help.

During our trip to Bergamo and Lecco I surprised Adam when I talked “in Italian” to a nice elderly man who tried to help us. I understood him perfectly, only my answer was a bit crippled… 🙂

Knowing Russian and my native Polish helps me partly understand  other Slavic languages which are similar to one or the other.

It’s not bad at all for languages I’ve never learnt 🙂

why to learn foreign languages

5. Learning a new language is like discovering a new world and new parts of your personality

Czech proverb says that if you learn a new language you get a new soul.

There is a lot of truth in it. Every language with its structure reflects patterns of behavior characteristic for its native speakers. Learning the language you watch the behaviors and at some point you start to copy them too.

From my perspective it also depends on your experiences with the language. When I speak English I’m the most self-confident and open – even more than in Polish. I’ve always been good at English. I was proud I can use it freely, I felt I’m better in it than others. It gave me more self-confidence.

why to learn foreign languages

In Russian – on the contrary. When I went to Russia my level of Russian was good. But I was in a Russian-speaking environment and I felt shy. I didn’t use the language as well as others around me (no surprise) and it took my self-confidence away. Till now I’m more shy when I speak Russian, especially at the beginning before I switch my thinking to Russian.

In French I’m somewhere in the middle for now. It depends on the company, situation and how tired I am. But in French after some time with the natives I like to watch myself acquire the characteristic French sounds which don’t mean anything but everybody uses them every other word (ouai, bah, bon… 🙂 ). If I started using words like this in Polish, everybody would think I had one drink too much… 🙂

why to learn foreign languages

All in all, I agree that English is enough to communicate during travels, at work, to read Internet. English is necessary nowadays.

But it’s not the only language worth knowing.

Check also what are my ways to learn a language without cramming grammar and vocabulary and what do  I do not to forget a foreign language. And remember also that no matter how many languages you know, eventually  you will go to a place where nobody speaks any of them. Then you will find useful some tricks how to communicate with locals when you travel.

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  • Bill Chapman

    There’s a case for learning a neutral international language which is designed for use by people of different nationalities. I refer, of course, to Esperanto. Esperanto works! I’ve used it in about twenty countries over recent years. I recommend it to any traveller, as a way of making friendly local contacts. I hope you will allow me to add that Esperanto continues to attract new learners and speakers. Nearly a million people have signed on for the free Duolingo Esperanto course in its first two years.

    • Thanks for your comment Bill. I imagine esperanto can help with communication. But doesn’t learning it miss some of the benefits I mentioned above? It’s not closely related to any culture and it’s not a native language of anybody so for me it misses all the depth and beauty connected to learning a language. I don’t say I’ll never try because why not – but it won’t be on top of my priorities list as this is just a communication tool, not a key to another culture and a new world 🙂

      • Bill Chapman

        Thank you for your reasoned and courteous response, Dorota. As well as English and Esperanto I speak French, German and Welsh. Each language adds something to my understanding of the world, but life is too short to learn them all. I like your listed benefit “You will meet people you wouldn’t and see the perspective you would miss otherwise”. This is precisely where Esperanto has been useful to me. Over recent years I have had guided tours of Berlin, Douala, Yerevan and Milan in this planned language. I have discussed philosophy with a Slovene poet, humour on television with a Bulgarian TV producer, youth unemployment in Portugal.I’ve discussed what life was like in East Berlin before the wall came down and in Armenia when it was a Soviet republic, how to cook perfect spaghetti, the advantages and disadvantages of monarchy, and so on. I recommend it as one very practical way to overcome language barriers.

        You mentioned native speakers. In fact Esperanto does have native speakers, and I have met 20-30 of them over the years. This did not happen in any planned way. When an Esperanto-speaking German father and a Japanese mother
        have children, the home language becomes Esperanto as a matter of course. Of course those children also learn their parents’ tongues. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzDS2WyemBI

        I do find that a knowledge of Esperanto has given me confidence and opened my eyes to other ways of living.

        My aim here is not to persuade you to learn. That’s up to you, but because you write well in English, I don’t want your readers to miss one of the language learning options which is available and frequently neglected.

        • I guess I wasn’t aware that so many people learn esperanto, I’ve never met anyone who would speak it even though I spend a lot of time in international company. Usually the first choice of a foreign language is English and then many people stop on this or learn other popular European languages like German, French or Spanish. Now I know 🙂
          It’s great that this language helped you meet interesting people and gave you confidence. Every language changes you and helps you develop if you’re motivated to learn it and excited about the thought of speaking it 🙂

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