Top 5 Reasons for Learning a Second Language

Spending a semester or an academic year abroad while studying another language sounds like a lot of fun, but are there any practical reasons for doing so?  Of course!

Below is a list of my top 5 reasons, but there are many more.  What would you add to this list?

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Standing in front of an oversized version of one of my favorite French books.


1.  Opening up the wide world of culture.  There’s a whole world out there that’s waiting for you to explore it, and not just through subtitles or translations.  For example, learning a foreign language allows you to read classic novels in the language they were written in, which means you’ll be able to pick up on subtleties that might be lost in translation.   Have you read Albert Camus’ The Stranger in literature class? I bet you’d perceive things differently if you read the French version!  But don’t stop at just books or movies–this applies to all aspects of culture.  Imagine being able to follow a Real Madrid game in Spanish, or attending a fashion show in Italy.  Learning another language will allow you to directly participate in these experiences. 

2.  Enhancing future travel experiences overseas.  This may be the most obvious reason, but it should not be overlooked.  Knowing the language of the country you are visiting can greatly increase your independence abroad.  Think about not having to rely on a tour guide to give you information about a historic monument, or not needing to consult a guidebook for recommendations on where to eat.  You could ask a local instead in their native tongue, and get a true insider’s point of view!  And who knows,  you’ll probably strike up an interesting conversation in the process.


3.  Increasing your job opportunities and earning potential.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear it on a weekly basis: “We’re living in an increasingly globalized world.”  It’s true!  Thanks to faster communication and less restricted travel between countries, the world as we know it is getting smaller every day.  Pretty soon, we’ll all be participating in a globalized economy, and most people around the world are already at least bilingual (in fact, children in many European countries study a second language in elementary school and a third language in middle school!).  Clearly, knowledge of a second language is becoming a prerequisite to entering the modern day workforce.

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4.  Improving your English skills.  This may seem a bit counterintuitive, but learning a foreign language actually helps you improve your English.  First and foremost, studying a Romance language will help you expand your vocabulary, since so many English words have Latin roots.    Who knew  that “crepuscular” is a synonym for “dim” or “unclear”?  I certainly didn’t before I learned the French term crépuscule–meaning “dusk.”  But studying a language also forces you to think about language mechanics: when are adverbs used as opposed to adjectives?  And what is the difference anyway?  You might not be able to put your finger on it just yet.  But you’ll learn–and believe it or not, this knowledge will be reflected when you speak English, too!

5.  Developing creative and critical thinking skills.  Talk to any student who’s studied abroad before and they’ll tell you:  there will be times when you’re not exactly sure how to say something.  And it’s totally fine when this happens!  You may not be a walking dictionary, but you’ll be able to think outside the box and use the basics to convey what you’re trying to say (hand motions will likely come into play at some point as well).  Know that you will make yourself understood, and enjoy the mental workout that takes place in the meantime.

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