Learning a foreign language: Why bother?

Patricia Dillon, Managing Editor

With English being one of the predominant business languages around the globe, many Americans may wonder why they should bother learning a foreign language. If translators are readily available in numerous countries, then why should learning a foreign language be required for native English speakers?

Unfortunately many Americans, particularly high school and college students, fail to see the value of learning another language. It can be a very handy skill to have. Instead of always relying on someone else to help, you can communicate better with those from foreign countries, or immigrants who have moved to

However, I do not believe it should be a requirement in a university for a few reasons. First, it is one more class that students have to pay tuition for and one more textbook that students have to buy. With unversities already being expensive, adding another course or two in a foreign language only furthers the debt that the student will have upon graduation.

Second, if someone does not have the desire to learn another language, then he or she will not learn it. The person will study just enough to pass the quizzes, tests and overall course. Some may not even do that much. If the desire is not there, then the information will not be retained and the student will graduate only knowing a small portion of the language. Ten or fifteen years down the road the student might not remember anything about the language at all, except maybe a few random words. It will have just been wasted money, time and effort.

Finally, learning a new language at a college level can be extremely difficult, especially for a person who has never been exposed the language before. After using English for one’s entire life, picking up French, Spanish or any other language could prove almost impossible. A person learns words from when he or she is an infant. Whatever language is spoken at home will be absorbed, processed and eventually spoken.

With that being said, learning a language is still a great thing to do. Not only does it add another skill to your repertoire, but it also shows that you respect other cultures. I can tell you from personal experience that native people in other countries will appreciate your efforts. A few years ago I went to Costa Rica as a part of an educational tour group. I had taken a couple years of high school Spanish so I tried to speak the language when I could. Even though I botched it sometimes, I could see that the natives were happy that I was trying. They smiled and even corrected me on words that I messed up.

Even though it might seem pointless, learning a new language can be fun and exciting. It’s something that everyone should do. If all you do is learn one other language, at least you won’t be confined to just English. Go ahead. Choose a language that interests you, and if you can find someone to help you learn then do so. If there’s no one around who knows the language then try translation dictionaries and other resources that help teach a foreign language.