28 OCTOBER 2015

Why We All Need to Learn Languages

Why We All Need to Learn Languages

There is no middle ground when it comes to learning languages. It’s either something you do, in which case you’re fully aware of the enormous number of benefits to you both personally, professionally and psychologically that you get from it, or it’s something totally alien to you that goes completely over your head when people start talking about it.

The fact is though, all of us – polyglots and polynots alike – need languages in our lives. Apart from the fact that it’s now been scientifically proven to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by over four years and greatly increase other cognitive functions, for the good of our societies human beings all around the world need to be able to talk to each other. Just speaking English does not quite cut it.

It was not until I started studying languages that I realised how small the world I lived in was. When I wanted information, I could only get it in one language. When I wanted friends, I could only get to know those who spoke that one language. When I wanted work, I could only look for jobs that only needed one language.

My entire life was dictated by the fact that I could only live it in one language. There are over 6000 spoken languages on the planet today. Just imagine how many different worlds there are out there waiting for you to discover.

I first noticed this when I would travel to a new place where I couldn’t speak the language. People were all around me living their lives, taking the kids to school, having meetings over lunch, catching up with friends in the evening, and talking politics. It was all so vivid and so real, yet far away for me. It was like I was seeing it all from within a thick glass box.

No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t ever break through it. If I tried to speak, nobody would understand. If I wanted to ask a question, I would have no idea how. I was totally reliant on people who spoke English to describe and explain this world to me, rather than being able to find out about it for myself. Stereotypes and misunderstandings are born this way.

When I lived in Russia, I arrived with a strong pre-conception of what it would be like. Over that year, I had to have a re-think. Everybody there was as ordinary as you and me. They had family, friends, hobbies and jobs. They told me amazing stories and welcomed me with open arms. I realised the only thing different between us was the colour of our passports. And our native languages.

Learning different languages has brought me in contact with people I would otherwise never have known. It’s introduced me to cultures that would otherwise always have been foreign. It’s shown me ways of thinking that I would otherwise never have imagined.

Languages have taken me out of my glass box and shown me the world.

Related Tags