The benefits of knowing a second or a foreign language in today's world are many. The world has turned into a global village. In this globalized existence, the knowledge of a foreign language in particular and the accompanying cultural competency are being increasingly recognized as valuable assets that give an advantage to those who possess such skills.
In countries like India, second language acquisition starts early, and by the time you are out of high school you are already bilingual or even multilingual. In the US, this is not necessarily the case. However, most American colleges and universities offer foreign language programs, and all students enrolled in certain degree programs are required to study a foreign language for a few semesters. While French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian and Japanese were the most popular languages from the 50s through the 90s, less commonly taught languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and Hindi have gained some ground in recent years -- although Spanish and French continue to be the most popular choices. The good thing about the US system is that students can often conveniently explore and study a foreign language of their choice without necessarily majoring in it.
While some individuals are exposed to a second language at home, many others choose to invest time and energy in a learning a new language, not because it's required for their degree or because of practical work-related needs, but because of the enjoyment and satisfaction it brings. Whatever be the reason, the pursuit of other languages can be a very enriching activity that transforms our experience of life. Every language represents a distinct and unique vision of the world, and the discovery of a whole new universe of words, ideas and culture represented by each language gives greater depth to the human mind and personality.
We perceive and navigate the world through our senses, but make sense of it through our intellect, which is fundamentally influenced by language.
While some experiences and feelings can be beyond words, it is language that shapes our world. We perceive and navigate the world through our senses, but make sense of it through our intellect, which is fundamentally influenced by language. A large part of our communication and interaction with others takes place through words and language. The thought process requires language. Even abstract ideas and concepts remain elusive if we cannot capture them and communicate them to others effectively, if we do not have words for them or the tools to describe them.
It is for this reason that great thinkers of all eras and cultures have philosophized about the value of knowing more than one language. Here are some noteworthy quotes that we are able to appreciate better when we experience first-hand the pleasures and the benefits of language learning:
"Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things." -- Flora Lewis
"The sum of human wisdom is not contained in any one language." -- Ezra Pound
"To know another language is to have a second soul." -- Emperor Charlemagne
"One who knows two languages is worth two." -- Spanish proverb
"Knowledge of languages is the first gateway to wisdom." -- Roger Bacon
"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." -- Ludwig Wittgenstein
"One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way." -- Frank Smith
"Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about." -- Benjamin Lee Wharf
"Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere." -- Chinese Proverb
Anybody can learn a foreign or a new language with the right guidance, although some people have a natural flair and may pick it up faster and with less effort. Ultimately, however, a language cannot be learnt overnight. Patience, practice, and hard work are required, but it is totally worth it.