Why bother learning another language?

General discussion about learning languages
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby Chung » Sun Aug 12, 2018 7:57 pm

nooj wrote:
aaleks wrote:Languages are just a tool for communication and sharing/receiving information so there hardly could be some really new out of the box reason.
I guess my reason (if I try to generalize it somehow) is a mix of curiosity (curiosities?).

Languages are more than that. They're also the means by which identity is formed. Language is one of the most important factors in how people create in and outgroups.

So I echo the reason given by a previous member, which is that heritage learners might want to learn a language connected to their parents or grandparents.

As much as I prioritize communicative utility like aaleks and have some misgivings on encountering language used as the way to form identity (see here and here), I've resigned myself to thinking that the latter is a thing and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

For sure, there's nothing really to apologize for when choosing to learn any language no matter how useless/useful it is or whether it was used by ancestors or not. My learning Northern Saami because it fascinated me and I encountered it when visiting Lapland doesn't invalidate others' efforts to learn it because their ancestors speak/spoke it (nor vice-versa).
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby cjareck » Sun Aug 12, 2018 8:19 pm

In my case the answer is simple - to be able to read (and of course, understand) sources in this language. So, for the Great War, this is German and Russian for the Eastern Front and German, French and English for the Western. The possibility of reading the sources and the publications allows understanding a different point of view and helps to find the truth.
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby rdearman » Sun Aug 12, 2018 8:29 pm

Xmmm wrote:But one thing you'll find in America is everyone talks about moving to Europe (I do it as well), but very few people ever do. Meantime, walking around America you run into all kinds of people from England, France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Russia who are moving the other way. And nobody cares about their English language certs, lol.

As an American living in the UK, trust me when I tell you that you can't swing a dead cat in Europe without hitting an American. I think a lot more people do leave than you'd think. I can personally list ten of the top of my head not counting me. Still there is what 128 million in the US? So even if less than 1% leave it is still a lot.

But then again you could move juat about anywhere in the British Commonwealth and you don't have to learn another language.So immigration and language learning are not necessarily related.
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby PeterMollenburg » Mon Aug 13, 2018 12:28 am

rdearman wrote:As an American living in the UK, trust me when I tell you that you can't swing a dead cat in Europe without hitting an American. I think a lot more people do leave than you'd think. I can personally list ten of the top of my head not counting me. Still there is what 128 million in the US? So even if less than 1% leave it is still a lot.

I think it’s a typo on your part, as opposed to an error. Add another 200 million and you’re about right. And 1% of 328 million is signicantly more, of course.
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby aravinda » Mon Aug 13, 2018 1:20 am

Cavesa wrote:I think you overestimate the level of translators...
Cavesa, my post was not specifically about you or me. I was kind of playing the devil’s advocate. As people who already have compelling reasons to learn languages, we are just wasting our time typing in English. :)
I think we are talking about slightly different things, though.
The translators I had in mind were literary translators who did translations for reputed imprints/publishers such as Penguin Classics/Random House. They always were translators with very good credentials, some of them were bilingual, or had an L2 native co-translator, or had studied the L2 to very high levels (far above a C2 if I may say so) spending considerable time in an L2 speaking country and teaching/working (in) higher educational institutions. In brief, most of them had spent a considerable part of their life actively using the L2 at an almost native level. I have rarely compared translations with the original but when I had issues about a translation it was mostly due to the choices the translators/publishers made with which I did not agree. For example in some English and French translations of Russian works, all the first names are given English or French equivalents: Андрей becomes Andrew and André. That said, I have come across bad translations, almost all of them into my native language by people who were out to make a quick buck. The funniest translations I have ever seen were in the instructions sheets/product manuals that came with flat-pack furniture and electronic appliances.

I mentioned English speakers because they are the most obvious example of a group of happy monolinguals. :P I was trying to look at the question from their viewpoint. I agree with you about textbooks and the need for at least some members of a smaller language community to know a major language. I had to use English textbooks because they were the only textbooks available. That was a compelling reason to learn English, I guess. Just to be clear, I don’t subscribe to the view that everyone from a smaller language community needs to learn English or another language. However, that is a contentious topic that I don’t wish to discuss further. When I mentioned translations I was thinking of more fun things not related to work. There is a limit to the number of books I can read as well as the number of languages I can master. I know translations into major languages are largely skewed towards European languages but still, the array of translations available from reputed publishers is so vast one would have to be really fastidious to run out of material to read. To be honest I was a happier reader before started learning languages. Now I keep postponing reading some books till the day (which may never come) that I can read them in the original version. :roll:

My little, tongue-in-cheek story was about some websites run by some (dubious) polyglots (not our Forum members) promoting polyglottery. I think I know the kind of degrees you talk about. That is my impression too with regard to some of these degree programs. However, I have the highest esteem for the Humanities and related disciplines in general. In all honesty, despite the common prevalent perception, I think some of these disciplines are as tough/worthy/ rewarding as any scientific discipline or vocational training. Now I am wondering far off-topic, I also don’t think a degree in Humanities etc should necessarily lead directly to a job.

I understand why you think you need certificates. The situation in your part of the world seems to be different. And sorry to hear about the floods (By the way, were you ready with a boat and all? :D Just joking). Funny you brought up the analogy of vaccination as a counter argument. I was going to compare "getting a jab for Yellow Fever without any travel plans" to "getting a language certificate without having any immediate use for it", then thinking that was too personal, went for the flood one. :)

Now, back to studying Russian.
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby snegi » Mon Aug 13, 2018 2:48 pm

I didn't read all the answers, but to give my reasons for learning languages.
English and German - had in school, so not really an option
Croatian and Serbian - Neighbors and similar languages and having relatives in those countries helped
Spanish and Russian - always wanted to learn, but unfortunately I don't use them frequently and level is going up and down :D
Norwegian - because...why not...

So basically it was a lot of coincidences in why I started languages. Some of them were a must, some of them a wish, and some just picked up along the way.

I does not really help with every job...as most employers like to have native speakers or trained translators with degrees and stuff.
Dementia...hmm I have knitting for that :)
Original books? Yes and no... Depends on the author.
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby zKing » Wed Aug 15, 2018 7:08 pm

In a word: Euphoria.

Let me expose a little embarrassing secret, one which I'd guess more than a few of us on this board share:
I get a thrill out of using another language like a little kid with a secret decoder ring.

Yes, I've toyed with learning languages for a few days or weeks in the past for normal (boring) 'good' reasons: Spanish because I was going to go on a trip, Japanese because I practice Karate, even Cantonese I started because my girlfriend (now wife) spoke Cantonese to her parents at our weekly dinners.

But what really got me past the 'toying around with a language' and into actually seriously learning a language? A few experiences that were pure exhilarating fun. As fun as any I've had when I rode motorcycles, or played video games or guitar or even when I went to the national competition for my karate style and took home a large trophy and couple of over-sized medals. (Actually, that one hurt a little.)

What am I talking about? Here are a few:

I remember a moment when I was first learning to read in Chinese. I was reading the "Beginning Chinese Reader" by John DeFrancis.
Each chapter teaches you the meaning of 10 characters and then it follows with a short essay using only the characters you've learned so far from the book. Of course, early on the 'essay' is more of a list of silly sentences as they are quite limited. But there was a moment when I was a few chapters into the book that I had one of those moments. I looked at the open book in front of me and the two pages facing me were completely filled with (really oversized :D ) traditional Chinese characters. And I understood ALL of it. It felt like I was staring at the matrix and I GOT it. It was a huge rush.

I had several of these moments when I was in Bologna, Italy after spending several months learning Italian.

One of the first was when I made a phone call to a restaurant to make a reservation. It was early in the day, an older gentleman answered and made it clear that the full staff wasn't there (i.e. the one waiter who speaks English was not around.) I apologized for my terrible Italian, as is my self deprecating way, and we continued on in Italian for several minutes. We had a semi-complex conversation about availability on different days, when they closed, etc. Not a word of English was spoken. After making the reservation and hanging up, I had an exhilarating realization that I just completed a conversation with someone that did not speak English. A conversation that would likely not have been possible a year before. I felt like superman.

At another restaurant later in the trip, I was ordering for my wife and I in Italian, and as it wasn't too busy, I then explained to our jolly chatty waiter that we had visited Bologna last year and that we specifically returned to this restaurant as we liked it so much on the previous trip. He then preceded to treat us like family (to be fair, the service was always like that) and poured me WAY too many free shots of limoncello. Sadly my wife doesn't drink, so I had to manage them all by myself. :lol: As I looked around the room with the warm glow of lemon liquor clouding my brain, I noticed that maybe 3/4 of the guests were locals and 1/4 were tourists. Most of the tourists were trying to puzzle out words on the menu and were not even attempting a simple "buonasera". I thought to myself: this opportunity to speak Italian is one I would never want to miss. We visited this same restaurant at least three or four times during our three week trip (my wife and I LOVE their steak and it was truffle season to boot.)

On our second to last day, I called a car service to pick us up the next day for the trip to the airport. Our AirBnB was right in the center of downtown and many of the streets are pedestrian only. I had a pretty complex conversation about timing, pick up location, closed streets, describing ourselves so the driver could find us, the airport, etc. all in Italian and it was all pretty fluid. It was awesome.

Sadly, I've let my Italian rust for a few years now. But I'll definitely pick it up again later.

In Cantonese, I have plenty of bad days, but I've had so many amazing moments. Yes, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, I DO think it is fun that every time I say the most basic thing in Cantonese some native will be genuinely shocked. (Although sometimes this gets old. 如果你知道幾多時間我用學廣東話,你就唔話我好犀利呀。-- If you knew how much time I used learning Cantonese, you wouldn't say I'm so amazing. ) I also like that I can share some cultural reference to a Cantonese TV show or something similar and see that connection in someone's eyes.

This is getting long so I'll hold off on a big list of Cantonese moments for now.

So in the end, if I am to be 100% honest about why I learn other languages, this is it.
I'm a kid with a secret decoder ring, and I get a kick out of knowing the 'secret'

Yes, this is a bit silly and self-indulgent... but aren't all hobbies?

What are your fun moments, those ones that give you that thrill?
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby aaleks » Wed Aug 15, 2018 7:50 pm

zKing wrote:What are your fun moments, those ones that give you that thrill?

I guess every time I post something on the forum and get understood :D
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby RMM » Wed Aug 15, 2018 10:06 pm

I’ve thought a lot about my reasons for learning languages. They differ a bit for each language, but I suppose they are primarily about opening up new cultures in ways that just aren’t possible without knowing the language and seeing everything from the inside (so to speak). It’s not just about reading books or seeing movies that have never been translated into English (although that is definitely important to me), it’s also about watching foreign TV in general, even the low-quality or informational shows that never get translated but tell you a lot about their country, noticing the different takes on things their newscasters and newspapers have, seeing how they express ideas differently in their language, noticing their unique world views, learning about the details of their history and society that rarely get commented on in English-language sources. It’s about seeing what they have to say about their culture and traditions, their arts, their past, their problems, their strengths.

And when I travel I want to chat with the locals, check in and buy things in the local language, and know what people or signs are saying around me. It’s particularly a benefit too if you need help from someone. But foremost it makes you more of a part of that society. Not to be corny, but it opens your horizons to other possibilities.

For a more specific reason, I love music, including music in other languages. I “feel” the music more if I know what the song is about. That’s even more true in regard to opera (or operetta/zarzuelas/musicals). If I lay out a lot of money to see an opera, I don’t want to be staring at a screen with the translation on the back of the seat in front of me or above the stage instead of getting engrossed in the plot. But even when just listening to popular music in the background, I don’t want to have to find the lyrics and a translation to know what the songs mean.

Beyond that, I have to disagree with the idea that translations of literature are pretty much as good as the originals. For the first Super Challenge, for example, I read Hamlet in German. It was a joke compared to the original. I don’t even think it should be considered the same play. Almost all of Shakespeare’s gorgeous use of language was left dead by the translator, and when you really think of it, how could it be otherwise? How could great authors who very distinctively used their languages ever be translated accurately with the same style and nuance? And that has to be even more true of poets.

And sometimes translators just have trouble expressing the same exact ideas across languages. I remember as a teen loving the French play Cyrano de Bergerac, but I was confused by the final line of the book about his “white plume.” Later, when I saw the last word was actually “panache,” it finally made sense to me. And in regard to great movies and shows, who wants to stare at subtitles instead having a deeper, more accurate and natural understanding? This may not on its face seem that important, but just think about how much of their lives most people spend on watching (and reading and listening) to things. Why not do it right?
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Re: Why bother learning another language?

Postby SM11 » Sat Sep 01, 2018 10:24 am

rdearman wrote: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?

Hi rdearman !

For me, there are 2 main reasons why people should learn another language.

Actually, for a long time, I only had the 1st main reason that kept me learning, but it's only recently that I discovered the greatness of the 2nd one (which is actually intimately related with the 1st one).

- The first one is a bit like yours: it's a hobby. Learning a new language is fun ! I think language is the main characteristic of a culture, and I find it so interesting to discover other cultures ! The world is so vast, there are so many beautiful things to see in this world, and the most beautiful is probably human beings. I mean, I know human beings can be terrible sometimes... but they can also be so beautiful. I think there's no other best way to understand other cultures than directly talking with people of these cultures in their language. When you talk with them, you can see how they think, how they live, how they eat, how they sleep, how they play, how they take care of ofthers, how they have fun...
I'm a French native and I had the chance to live 5 years in China when I was a kid. I'm so grateful I had this experience because it really opened my mind to different cultures. When I came back to France, I was often sad to see how people can be so narrow-minded when it comes to other countries, people, cultures... it seems like France is the only country that exist in the world and they have nothing to do with other people in the world.
There's this quote from St Augustine I really like "The world is a book, and those who don't travel only read one page".

- Now the 2nd one, as I said, is linked to the 1st one: Learning a new language builds your character. Because when you think about it, learning a new language has nothing to do with talent, or intelligence, or being good at memorizing stuff, or whatever. I think it's all about motivation and mindset. Someone who learned to speak another language in his life is someone who has confidence in himself. In order to become fluent in a language which is not your native language, you have to make a lot efforts, step out of your comfort zone, just take the plunge.
Everyone is afraid of speaking another language at the beginning. We are afraid of not being understood, of being judged, of being ridiculous, of feeling awkward... There are sooo many barriers that can't be broken by learning a new language. That's why I think it's really worth it to learn other languages, because once you reach your goal, you can be proud of yourself, people will respect you, and as I said earlier, you'll be able to talk with people who have completely different culture and way of thinking than you. You become more open-minded and you can understand a bit more how this world works.

Alright, I hope I can inspire people to learn languages with that (more than just to get a job or watch Intouchables in French ^^' (even though thoses are good reasons as well) ).

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