Why should we learn foreign languages?

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  • Why should we learn foreign languages?

    This question may strike some of you as an obvious one, but I assure you that it’s not the case. Many people still think that learning a foreign language is a waste of time and then prefer to go and learn how to play a musical instrument. While there is nothing wrong with playing a musical instrument, I will strongly oppose the view that learning a foreign language, for whatever reasons, makes no sense. Let me consider three strong points here.

    First of all, if you learn a foreign language, especially when you start relatively early in your life, the process of learning will be much easier. Your brain is much more flexible and adaptable when you are younger, particularly in terms of recognising and producing specific foreign sounds. The argument is clear: the earlier you start, the better for you.

    Second of all, learning a language may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It is not only this process that helps you prevent cognitive decline later on in life. In fact, doing cognitively difficult and challenging tasks serves the same purpose. Yet, learning a language, apart from the simple fact that it’s funny and rewarding, brings also a purely practical advantage.

    Third of all, the practical advantage of learning a foreign language makes you more open-minded towards people, cultures and viewpoints. It’s a scientific fact that people who learn a foreign language change their perspective on many issues, due to the fact that that every language categorises everyday phenomena according to its own rules. It may seem far-fetched to claim that languages have such an influence on our mind, but take a moment and think. Do you think it would be easier for you to talk about difficult experiences from your life in a foreign language, for example, English? Or maybe speaking a foreign language makes you a little bit more self-confident? There have been studies that confirmed that people tend to switch to their second language if they find the subject too emotionally taxing. This is called “emotional distancing”.

    In conclusion, there are many sides to learning foreign languages and it is hard to choose the only one. There are personal reasons to start the language journey but this short essay was aimed at proving that there are also objective motivations. Science says that the earlier, the better. Science also says that a foreign language makes it often easier for you to talk about what you find too emotionally involving, equipping you with a tool for the whole life

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