It’s always been difficult to persuade native English speakers to be interested in language learning – “after all, they all speak English, don’t they?” The answer is that no, they don’t. And with worldwide travel becoming an increasingly important part of business and leisure, more and more English speakers are finding they too need to study a foreign language.
Why Learn a Language?
Let’s Talk Business
As the world globalizes, many businesses are seeking to establish a presence in new markets. A company can get its foot in the door by setting up an office in their target country to conduct business direct with trading partners. Someone who knows the local language is likely to get ahead of the competition in forging valuable business relationships.
Many larger companies with offices worldwide routinely send their bright young prospects abroad to gain experience of the global operation. You’re far more likely to get one of these highly desirable jobs if you already speak the language.
If you’ve been sent to work in a country, you’ll need to be able to organize everyday things like shopping, house maintenance, appliance repairs, applying for a driver’s license, registering a car. And if you’re taking a family with you, they’ll find life much easier if they can speak a smattering of the local language too.
Language For Fun
If you’re traveling to a foreign country on vacation, a few useful phrases will help you order meals and drinks, give taxi drivers directions, buy souvenirs, and sort out practical problems – or even avoid them in the first place!
Which Language Should I Learn?
This will depend on what you want to use the language for, as well as your aptitude for languages.
Spanish, French and German are popular, both for vacationers and for business. They’re also comparatively easy to learn as they’re closely related to English and use the same alphabet.
Asian languages like Japanese and increasingly Mandarin Chinese are gaining importance in the business world. But they’re considered difficult, the more so as they’re written using ideograms instead of an alphabet.
Where to Learn a Language
There are countless language schools all over the world, and if you’re learning one of the more widely spoken languages, there may be one near you.
Online learning is also a possibility. Many free courses are available online and we’ll be covering them on Courses Guide. For example, the BBC offers free online 12-week courses in French, Italian, Spanish, and German. And of course there are “Teach yourself” courses with audiovisual materials so that you can learn at home.
It’s also possible to combine a language course with a holiday. There are many companies offering such courses – for instance, you can learn Spanish in Spain. You’ll pick up cultural aspects of the country as well as receiving the language tuition.
If you can manage it, the best way of all to learn is by immersion – go live for six months with a family that speaks the language, and cut yourself off from opportunities to hear or read English.
What Will I Get Out of Learning a Language?
Languages are generally considered a soft skill. Although it’s possible to make a career out of your language (for example, teaching or even interpreting), most people use it as an extra skill to support their career in another field, notably business.
However you use your language learning, there’s no denying the sense of achievement you feel when you speak to a foreign person in their own language and they reply – and each of you understands the other. ¡Buena suerte!