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Significance of Foreign Languages learning
The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible :
“The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul,” wrote Thomas Moore, renowned poet, satirist, and lyricist from Ireland.
What the great soul of Goethe said may also be read along with it : “Those who know nothing of foreign languages, know nothing of their own.”
These great men paint a broad picture enticing us to the world of languages from the standpoints of aesthetics and humanism. From the narrow perspective of career development, learning foreign languages does have immense relevance in the modern world.
Any language represents a distinct culture. As Gandhiji emphasised, no culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive. In this era of globalisation, knowledge of the language of another country helps in strengthening mutual understanding.
A language shapes the way we think. Language skills do offer the ability to enter into the mind of other cultures. It is often said that language is not only the means of thought, but the thought itself.
Advantages in knowing a foreign language are :
- Developing new perspectives based on a different culture
- Appreciating different value systems
- Developing new learning skills and mental flexibility drawn from efforts for language study
- Making travel more enjoyable
- Interacting with people from another country in their language
- Securing admission in universities and institutions in other countries
- Reading journals and research papers in different languages in original
- Finding careers such as :
- Diplomatic services personnel
- Tourist guides
- Air hostesses / flight pursers
- Hotel receptionists
- Travel managers
- Public relations officers in multi-national companies
- Language teachers
- Advertising professionals
- International marketing professionals
When we discuss the advantage of learning foreign languages, some would indicate that English, in which most of us have at least moderate proficiency, is an adequate tool of communication with people from any country in the world.
This is a fallacy. Those who are proficient in the English language, either as the mother tongue or as an additional language, constitute less than 25 per cent of the world population.
Even this is not evenly distributed across the globe. If you go to countries like Korea, Japan, or even parts of Europe, you will find it hard to communicate with the local people in English.
It may be noted that many universities in countries like Japan and Germany insist that you first pass a proficiency test in the respective languages before you are considered for admission in the graduate programs or research.
Many of us in India are comfortable in two or three languages including English. More than half the population in mainland Europe is fluent in at least two languages.
However, native speakers of English are notorious for their indifference in learning a second language. This is probably because they can manage practically everything in daily life including higher education through the English language.
The advantages of learning a foreign language would drive many of us to learning an additional language.
There is a recent trend in certain parts of India of people learning Chinese, not for academic purposes but for business reasons.
In the backdrop of globalisation and rising international business, many organisations would require the services of more and more multilingual employees for regular communication and negotiations.
Everyone may not excel in learning languages. If you want to gain proficiency in a foreign language, you should have an inherent passion for words and phrases, idioms, and expressions.
It is good if you have a keen ear for the nuances and variations in voice and intonation. An ability to listen well aids comprehension.
Delight in reading, enhancement of your vocabulary, and enjoyment in meeting people from different countries and interacting with them are attributes that help mastering foreign languages.
Patience and willingness for constant practice are necessary for improving your competence. There are tests like MLAT ( Modern Language Aptitude Test ) which predicts your efficiency in learning languages.
However, if the will is there, anyone can develop language skills for conversation.
Further, bilingual people are found to be better at learning foreign languages than monolingual people. Since most of us are bilinguals, using the mother tongue and English, we are at an advantage compared to those who handle no language other than their native tongue.
However, writing quality language is a totally different proposition.