Learning a new language

In addition to losing weight, a lot of people include learning a new language among their new year’s resolutions. I hate to contradict our president-elect, but for the vast majority of Americans, it’s just not worth the effort. Unless you work in a specialized field, knowing another language will not help you get a better job. I say this as someone who speaks fluent Spanish, and enough French to get by.

The fact of the matter is, most educated people the world over speak English. They begin learning it at a very young age, and they all speak it much better than you can ever hope to speak their language. Consequently, when you try to speak to them in their native tongue, they will take pity on you and answer you back in English.

A lot of people want to learn Spanish, because it is spoken quite a bit in the US. But ultimately you will find that the only people who will converse with you are people who never bothered to learn English in the first place: your gardner perhaps, or the dishwasher in your local Mexican restaurant.

My office mate in graduate school was a Spaniard. He married an American woman and settled in our old college town. I was talking to him the other day, and he agreed: there is little or no benefit to being able to speak Spanish in the US. Everybody who speaks Spanish wants to learn English!

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2 Responses

  1. Learning a new language is very important because it helps you learn about different cultures. This is very good. You have made a very impressive site so far. I look forward to reading and learning more.

  2. Maya: I don’t disagree with you. It’s fascinating to learn about other cultures. However, people often think that learning another language will help them at work. There may be some fields where that is true: tourism, economic development, etc. But for the vast majority of careers, the most important language to know is English. I travel a lot to other countries since I am a member of a committee that contains representatives from France, Germany, Italy, Finland, and the US. What language do you think our meetings are conducted in? Hint: it’s not Esperanto!

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