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Learning Foreign Languages

Why is learning foreign languages important?

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maadhav19 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Learning a foreign language at any level is helpful. First and most broadly, it helps to understand other cultures and other people, and helps talking with people sometimes. Then there are the cogntive benefits of keeping separate languages straight in your head and being able to think in another language than one's primary language. In my own experience, I never did serious study of any foreign languages until college, and I knew by then I was unlikely to become fluent in any one. But I got conversational abilities in three, and learned to read those and three more, and osmtimes for fun, I pick up language grammars and work through them. Sometimes I run into people who know one of these and it helps as a conversation starter. It has opened doors, too: I had a desk job at the library in grad school, and was recruited into foreign language cataloging. Overall, though, the best reason is probably the first one: to understand the world around us and the other people who inhabit it.

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wannam eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I have to disagree that learning a foreign language isn't helpful unless you learn it really well. I'm one of those people who has a really hard time learning a foreign language, but I have studied several different languages. While I only speak one other language fluently, I think I learned a great deal through my studies. It brings a greater appreciation for other cultures and for your own culture as well. It also brings a greater appreication of lanuage in general. While I cannot speak many languages flutently, I am at least able to understand some parts of other languages. I think learning foreign languages is important because it provides us with a well rounded education.

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The famous poet-philosopher Wolfgang Johann von Goethe once said, "He who does not know another language, does not know his own."

Studying a foreign langugage forces one to come to grips with the structure of one's own language since there must be something to which one can relate the learning of the new language.  Of course, if one speaks English and studies Latin or Greek, for instance, the student learns the roots of many English words.  With the Norman Conquest of 1066 effecting French as the official language and the written language of early literature in England, a study of French provides the English speaker with insights into both grammar and vocabulary and structure.

The study of any foreign language helps a student to step "outside the box" of one's own culture and learn, not only of another culture, but also perceive  all it means to be of one's own culture.  For, language is culture. To quote Goethe again,"Learning another language is to acquire another soul."

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lmetcalf eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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According to Thomas Friedman, an writer who writes about economics for the New York Times, The World is Flat. The global economic picture of the future ties all countries and all cultures closer together than ever before, and while English tends to be language that binds the world (there are way more English as a 2nd language speakers than there are people who speak it natively) it is going to be more important to speak other languages as the world's economy becomes more and more interdependent.

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bullgatortail eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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From a strictly financial point of view, learning a second (or third) language can be quite profitable when you go looking for employment. I live in Florida, and speaking Spanish is required for many jobs. People who speak both English and fluent Arabic languages are in great demand these days, particularly in government and federal agencies.

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belarafon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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#3 makes an excellent point; if you are cloistered in your own first language, you will miss nuances that trip people up. If you learn a different language you can see how language and meaning changes by context, gesture, and sentence structure.

Check out this website. The author is an Irish man who goes to different countries and learns their languages by listening and conversing. It's very interesting stuff.

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are benefits to learning a lanaguage even if you don't become fluent.  First of all, you develop a better understanding of your own language's grammar and syntax from learning a new language.  Second of all, you can also learn new things about another culture and appreciate differences.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In a sense, it is not unless you learn them really well.  (I say this as someone who is fluent in one foreign language and conversant in two more -- so I'm not just some bigoted American who thinks that other languages are beneath me).

To me, the most important thing about other languages is that they give you a better understanding of other cultures.  Understanding other cultures actually is important because it helps us not be too arrogant or set in our ways.  It helps us understand that there are other ways that might be as valid as our own.  When you truly know a language (and can listen to music in that language or watch TV in it) you get to understand the other culture better and that truly is important.

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jakomoro77 | Student

There are so many benefits to learning a foreign language that all monolinguals (people who only speak one language) should feel shortchanged!

First, it actually makes your brain work better. There are numerous studies that have shown that to be the case, but Ellen Bialystok, a cognitive neuroscientist and distinguished professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, Canada, who has been studying how bilingualism affects the brain for 40 years, said, “The monolingual will look at that animal and say, ‘dog’...” “But to a bilingual, two alternatives present themselves. That means that bilinguals are always having to make a decision that monolinguals just don’t have to make.” (Smith, 2018). In short, when you speak more than one language, your brain does more work, makes more connections in different parts of the brain... it's like weightlifting for you brain. Down the line, that means improved memory and lowered risk of dementia and Alzheimer's.

It also improves your English and communication skills. According to an article in The Telegraph, learning how to express yourself in two languages helps you understand grammar, sentence structure and even how the meanings of words can differ. As a result, it can help you creatively communicate and locate mistakes better because you have a strong handle on your own (Merritt, 2013).

Lastly, you learn a new culture with each new language. A middle school student of mine said, "Our family is very important." I stopped him and said, "Whose family, Eric, are you married?" He said no, but in Korean, you don't say, "my family," it's always "our family." Same with country: "our country, not my country." Culturally, Korea is very communal: the group is more important than the individual. Which is reflected in the language!