Why learn a foreign language?

When visiting foreign lands you can usually find people who know enough English to communicate with you, at least on a basic level. Or you could hire a interpreter if you need to communicate at a more advanced level. So is there any real need for you to learn a foreign language?

While it is possible to get by just speaking English, this does put both you and the people you’re communicating with at a disadvantage. Even if you find people who speak English well, they won’t necessarily be able to say everything they want to say in English, and would feel more comfortable speaking their native language. To communicate effectively with them you will probably need to simplify your English, and to avoid using colloquialisms, idioms and regional vocabulary. Neither party in such an conversation can be absolutely sure that they are being understood and are understanding the other party.

So why not just use an interpreter? In certain circumstances, such as important negotiations, it would be a good idea to do so, however interpreters are not cheap and using them makes the flow of conversation less smooth.

Knowledge of foreign languages gives you the ability to communicate more effectively with people, and enables you to get about places more easily, as you will be able to read signs, timetables, notices, etc, and ask for directions and assistance when necessary. You may receive more positive and helpful responses, better treatment, lower prices, from people if you talk to them in their own language, even if you only know the basics. In a business context, the ability to speak the language of your customers or clients could mean that you get better deals, contracts and sales.

Languages are not just useful for travel and international business – they can also give you access to the literature, music, cuisine, science and other aspects of different countries and cultures. Learning a language can also be a way of getting in touch with your roots, or of reviving an ancestral language. Finally, languages are fascinating in their own right, and learning them can be a wonderful adventure.

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