Why bother learning another language?

General discussion about learning languages
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rdearman
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Why bother learning another language?

Postby rdearman » Sat Aug 11, 2018 12:28 pm

It struck me recently that for the average person, read "my family", have no reason, need, or want to learn another language. I did a quick trawl through google links for reasons to learn another language, and they mostly boil down to these:

  1. More job opportunities
  2. Hold off dementia
  3. Enjoy books and films "in the original"
  4. Make friends

To be honest none of these are selling points to the average person, and in fact some of them are inaccurate as near as I can tell. For example, why would anyone hire me to speak French when they can just get a French person to do it? The job thing really only works in your native language, people would rather hire a native where possible. So if I want job opportunities I'd be better off looking for a job in France for English speaking native. The only time I've ever met anyone who was hired for the language they speak was at a customer support centre and we always hired native speakers never 2nd language speakers.

While there is some evidence language learning helps hold off dementia, there is as much evidence that reducing or eliminating sugar from your diet would have more effect for less effort.

Enjoy art "in the original" is pretty much just an argument for snobbery in my opinion, most of the translated works I have read have been faithfully translated and you don't miss much.

I have made some friends with people because of learning languages, but mostly it is people I have become friends with because we have the same hobby, which is learning languages. So if I had decided to go with wood-working or wéiqí or boat-building I would have made friends with that hobby too. The reason I continue to learn languages is because it is a hobby.

Many people like the "idea" of learning a language, but when told that they are looking at a commitment of 1-2 hours per day for a couple of years the shine wears off really quickly. So is there any compelling reason for Joe Public to learn a language?
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby Cavesa » Sat Aug 11, 2018 1:03 pm

1.The job opportunities for the 2nd language speakers are a very real thing for people with other native languages than English or a few more huge ones.

Also, the "we've never hired 2nd language speakers for the job, only natives" experience calls for a follow up question: "and what kinds of candidates were you refusing,what were their language skills?". Perhaps only badly speaking 2nd language speakers were applying, or they were simply worse in other aspects than the successful candidates who also happened to be natives of the demanded language.

3.The quality of translations is also a thing. There are some excellent translations and dubbing, and then there are crappy ones. I had to turn the tv off yesterday, when I saw a few minutes of Sherlock dubbed in Czech. Horrible. And I hated a translation of a French crime novel, where the translator basically dared to correct the author and made the characters use different (too polite) kind of language, and those are just two examples out of many.

Also, lots of stuff simply doesn't get translated.

And if number 3 is snobbery, I have no problem with it, having heard my fair share of sports related snobbery (basically all those comments in a certain tone concerning any non-sport hobbies being a waste of time, and so on.) :-D

Something related that almost never gets mentioned: the prices. This is one of my reasons for learning German, the books are cheaper. And dvds (even the same ones with the same sound and subtitle options. And we are not talking about a few cents of difference, we are talking about the normal western price being tripled for people in a much poorer central european country, who also don't get the same quality of the legal streaming services for the same price). When it comes to books, there are different "traditions" of the market like whether the preference of paperback vs hard cover and so on, and also the prices in general. I could talk about this for a long time with practical examples and explanations (for example, the Czech translation is often twice as big as the original book due to stupidly thick paper, hard cover, and large font, so that the publisher can justify the high price. and these books are also not practical to carry around and read in public transport). So, I can either buy a book damaged by the translation, or I can pay the same price for two or three books in original.

Or the same medical textbook costs much less in original than in translation and you get the up to date edition instead of the ten years old one.

And don't forget the news. One doesn't need to be a conspirationist to notice the differences in the same story, depending on who is writing about it and where is the newspaper published. Foreign languages give us the freedom to look at the bigger picture.

2.well, almost any activity people do is good against brain deterioration. Language learning is a nice option but I personally doubt it would work that great on its own, I totally agree other measures should be addressed first. And people don't care much anymore about their health, until it is too late anyways.

4.Making friends, that is a popular reason but the most tricky one. Making native friends even in the supposedly ideal situations doesn't often go so smoothly. Learning a language just to communicate with people directly is probably the fastest way to disappointment and/or burn out. :-D


So, if there was any chance to flood the internet with less kitsch and more meaningful lists of reasons to learn foreign languages, I would spread something like this:
1.Freedom to move abroad, should you ever want or need or have to
2.Job opportunities, if you learn a set of skills fitting the chosen language and career path too
3.Cheaper and better media of any kind, as you'll be choosing from a much wider selection
4.Understanding others much better, thanks to knowing a bit more about their culture, thinking, and also thanks to easy eavesdropping :-)
5.Bragging rights. It is cool to know a language. People may discourage you at first but your success will change their attitude and behaviour
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby rdearman » Sat Aug 11, 2018 1:15 pm

Cavesa wrote:Also, the "we've never hired 2nd language speakers for the job, only natives" experience calls for a follow up question: "and what kinds of candidates were you refusing,what were their language skills?". Perhaps only badly speaking 2nd language speakers were applying, or they were simply worse in other aspects than the successful candidates who also happened to be natives of the demanded language.

A company located in London is spoiled for choice. There were hundreds of applicants for the job, remember this was a call centre, so a position for Spanish speaker would get 100-200 applicants, so the first thing you do is strip out all applicants whose native language isn't Spanish and who don't already live in the country. Didn't matter what their level was, if it wasn't native then it wasn't enough to make the final cut. Even then we'd still have to go through 50-100 applicants who were native Spanish speakers and try to get it down to 10 people to interview then to 2-3 people for second interviews. I suppose if the job required more specialist skills like doctor or lawyer then 2nd language applicants would have been considered.
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby shandra » Sat Aug 11, 2018 1:20 pm

rdearman wrote:Enjoy art "in the original" is pretty much just an argument for snobbery in my opinion, most of the translated works I have read have been faithfully translated and you don't miss much.

I agree.

That point in the list makes more sense as:
Read novels and essays not translated (yet) in my language.

Niche authors' works are unlikely translated in many languages.
Essays about topics that rapidly evolve are often unprofitable to be translated by editors (e.g. IT manuals). The content could be outdated before the release of the translated book.

So one need to know the target language or at least English (as vehicle of culture).

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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby Skynet » Sat Aug 11, 2018 1:33 pm

rdearman wrote:While there is some evidence language learning helps hold off dementia, there is as much evidence that reducing or eliminating sugar from your diet would have more effect for less effort.

I would never invest so much time to ward off dementia when I could have simply stayed in my natural (familiar and comfortable) elements of contract bridge and chess.

rdearman wrote:Enjoy art "in the original" is pretty much just an argument for snobbery in my opinion, most of the translated works I have read have been faithfully translated and you don't miss much.

I found this to be remarkably funny because I absolutely fall into this category. I am bilingual, so I have read some books written in language A and translated into language B, and vice versa. Whilst the translations can be good, there are just some phrases/nuanced speech/idioms/proverbs/onomatopoeia/etc that cannot be translated correctly. There are many books out there that are simply never, ever translated into a language that I already know. This means that I am doing myself a great disservice in not being able to read such potentially good reads. I want to learn French and German now because I want to pursue my PhD in a French- or German-speaking country in 2020/2021 because adjusting to the culture would be infinitely less difficult if I already knew the language.

rdearman wrote:I have made some friends with people because of learning languages, but mostly it is people I have become friends with because we have the same hobby, which is learning languages. So if I had decided to go with wood-working or wéiqí or boat-building I would have made friends with that hobby too. The reason I continue to learn languages is because it is a hobby.

Agreed. I have made friends here based on my interests in swimming, fishing and even astronomy. One tends to become friends with people with whom one has things in common. However, I would like to add that people generally tend to be friendlier to foreigners who are making some semblance of an effort to learn their language. I have lost count of the friendships that I have forged because I simply greeted someone in his/her native language. It works like a charm, all the time! :lol:

rdearman wrote:Many people like the "idea" of learning a language, but when told that they are looking at a commitment of 1-2 hours per day for a couple of years the shine wears off really quickly.

I agree! People are enamoured of languages and language learners (poly- and hyperglots in particular), BUT when it comes to making the commitment, most people are not willing to invest the time/effort required. It is a characteristic of the modern, convenience-laden world in which we live: the theory is that if it cannot be done the "Instantly, just add water" route, then it cannot be done.
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby Bones » Sat Aug 11, 2018 1:39 pm

1. You can access more information. It's apparent if your native language is only spoken by 6 million people, but even if you are an English speaker there is plenty of content that isn't translated into your mother tongue.

2. You can live in different countries. While you might be able to survive with only English just fine, good luck getting a normal job that isn't English teaching or having a normal social life. This applies even to countries like Sweden and Finland where "everyone" speaks English.

3. It's "easy". Sure, it'll take thousands of hours to get good, but most of those hours are spend doing fun low effort activities like watching movies and playing video games.

Edit: too slow :shock:
Last edited by Bones on Sat Aug 11, 2018 1:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby aaleks » Sat Aug 11, 2018 1:42 pm

Enjoy art "in the original" is pretty much just an argument for snobbery in my opinion, most of the translated works I have read have been faithfully translated and you don't miss much.

This was my reason ;) . Although in my case there was nothing snobbish because it - "my reason" - wasn't about art. I was watching a series and for some reason several episodes weren't translated. I could find them only with subtitles, no dubbing. But I don't like reading subtitles I rather watch the actors' faces when they are speaking so... The funny thing is I lost the interest to the series before I was able to watch it "in the original" but who cares now :D .

But I agree, I read Alexander Dumas', Mark Twain's, Mayne Reid's books, etc translated in Russian as a child thus I had/have no need to learn the languages just to be able to read books, or watch films.

-------

From my observation, at least when it comes to English, the people who are learning the language only for a practical reason (and, probably, without a visible deadline) usually are not the most successful learners. But I can't say for sure why it's so.
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby StringerBell » Sat Aug 11, 2018 2:00 pm

I think the heart of the question is really, "Why bother doing or learning anything?"

I know a lot about photography. I even had a darkroom set up in my apartment at one point so that I could develop all my (film) photos. I spent a lot of time studying the work of various photographers and going to galleries to see their work in person. Learning about and developing my photography skills didn't lead to job opportunities and I didn't make friends as a result of doing it...I did it because I loved it, it filled my day with excitement and joy, I loved the challenges, I felt pride when I finally was able to get that perfect shot.

If someone HATES learning languages and genuinely has no interest in doing it, I don't think they should. The main reasons for doing it in my eyes are:

-It's something you've always wanted to do or to be skilled at
-You have a concrete goal that requires use of this other language (such as moving abroad or wanting to date someone who speaks this language)
-You really want or need to communicate with a specific group of people (you work or will work in an environment where not everyone speaks your native language)
-You have a friend or family member who speaks this language
-You have a special attachment to a particular language or culture
-You have a burning desire to travel in this country away from all the tourist traps
-You take pleasure in learning languages and you love the process; it's a rewarding hobby
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby I_likes_languages » Sat Aug 11, 2018 2:08 pm

After reading your post, I understand your question like this:
Why bother learning any language other than English?
and even more precisely:
What tangible use does learning any language other than English to a high level have for the average person?

So my mind got stuck on your "average person". Without getting to much into the details about what constitutes an average, I'd say that assuming some "average" person, even with the help you've given by pointing to family and Joe Public really confounds answering the question. But I'm guessing you're looking for diverse input and not the perfectly calibrated answer here. I just wanted to point out that I think any answer you're going to get will depend on the poster's own definition of what constitutes an average person, or what the poster assumes makes up an average person/Joe Public for you.

I'm assuming your "average person" is a monolingual English native speaker with an established relationships, an established career which does not require foreign languages, who lives somewhere with little exposure to foreign languages, and if she has exposure to other languages, no language is dominant.

So as long as this person is just quietly living her life, I'd say there is no reason to learn a language. As a hobby, it can be fun, and the use it may have follows from studying it.

I can see many extrinsic reasons for this to change:
Tourist in a foreign country; Boss says so; loose job; your son or daughter falls in love with someone; you're favorite author's books are no longer getting translated into English; presumed prestige connected to language learning...

However, I don't think that these reasons are enough to justify learning a foreign language to a [url]high level[/url].

That being said, I would disagree with your assessment of the job situation. For someone who has less of an established career, languages can be usefull. Finding native speakers with exactly the skill set and experience you are looking for is harder in some areas than others. Depending on a company's size, you might not want to hire one person for each language, or a large part of an employees tasks will be non language related, which means you want that person to have perfect grasp of English/the companiy's language. For any job that involves international trade/projects/cooperation/etc.; the whole tourism and hospitality industry etc. languages are a necessary tool. If you do any kind of research, not everything is published in English either, depending on the subject. And as for media, not everything gets translated, or it may take time (decades).

I do it for fun and because I'm an ambitious person, and learning a language gives me the feeling of solving little mysteries and improving every day, so that's not very tangible either...

Edit: I'm too slow too :lol: ...
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby Axon » Sat Aug 11, 2018 2:18 pm

As Cavesa pointed out, for many people whose native language is not English there are still huge job opportunities for people with language skills. In China, if you learn any Southeast Asian language in university, you are approached frequently in your third and fourth year by representatives of Chinese companies in SEA and SEA companies in China. They will hire you for a salary at least double the average local wage, provide free accommodation, and train you at their expense to do whatever job needs to be done - such is the shortage of people who know the local languages.

The Asian and Southeast Asian languages department at one Chinese university I'm familiar with expands every year. Last year it added Tagalog, this year Hindi. It offers generous scholarships to go do immersion programs abroad and those scholarships are often matched by the host country. It still has trouble finding applicants for the language programs because languages are seen as too difficult.

So that's one reason I'm working on Southeast Asian languages. :D
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