Language is the most important bridge to another person’s heart. One of my favourite quotes on this matter is by Nelson Mandela. Mandela explains that “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head” whereas “ If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.”
Learning language breaks down some cultural barriers, as language and culture are so intertwined that one could say that learning the language of a people is in fact a window into their culture. For when you learn another language, you gain some insight into the perspectives and spirit of the people who speak it. This will ultimately only add to you as a person and to your understanding of life. For as Federico Fellini says, “a different language is a different view of life”.
These two points are essential because cultures are bound to meet through business, sharing of technology and knowledge, tourism and political endeavors. It is also a reality that when cultures meet; they are also bound to clash. This cultural interaction is necessary for as Ghandi says, “no culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive”. This cannot ring any more true than in this age of globalized communication that has made interaction with the other effortless but has also increased chances of cultural misunderstanding and cultural misrepresentation.
Essentially, whether you are traveling for business or leisure you will most probably meet people that are different to you and that speak another language and knowing the language of your destination can only enhance the experience for all other parties involved. As you will be able to appreciate the people, their arts and way of life a lot more. You will also have a better chance of making meaningful friendships and increasing business as well as work or overseas study opportunities.
However, interestingly enough, learning another language hones your skills at your own language. For as you look at another language critically you are inevitably going to compare it to your own. What happens is you suddenly realize that you are learning things about your own language that you did not notice before because you have taken it for granted all along. In addition to becoming better acquainted with your own language and culture, as they are a packaged deal, you also keep your brain working and access areas that you may not have accessed earlier.
In fact, research indicates that learning language helps with offsetting dementia by four or five years (refer to Thomas Bak and Suvarna Alladi’s work on bilingualism and dementia). Additionally, research in the areas of language acquisition shows that when you learn language you will also implicitly learn how to learn a language because your metalinguistic awareness increases.
Ultimately, when you learn a language you add to your repertoire of cognitive and life skills a skill that cannot be isolated and taught at a school or university. Although research results in the area are mixed, there is evidence to suggest that competence in two languages increases chances of acquiring a third language. So what are you waiting for?