The importance of languages

On the internet, numerous articles present us with the 5, 10, 20 reasons to learn a language. They mention economic power, education and jobs abroad, trips around the world. It is an undeniable fact that speaking several languages provides some opportunities, but it is a pity that the economic performance is the most sought-after benefit of foreign languages at the expense of essential and human benefits.

If one relies on economic reasons, then only the languages spoken in the business world deserve to be learned. This line of reasoning benefits the detractors of language learning in English schools. Liam Mullone, in an article for the Spectator, wrote: "It's just that I want my children to be successful, and learning French makes no business sense." Jeremy Paxman, in an article for the Financial Times, echoes this sentiment: "The outcome of the struggle is clear: English is the language of science, technology, travel, entertainment and sport. To be a citizen of the world it is the one language that you must have”. 

However, it seems that these two gentlemen have forgotten the essence of the languages. Languages cannot be reduced to a simple means to professional success. They express our thoughts, our ideas, our identity, our culture. 

Discovering one or several foreign cultures gives us a more open view to the world. Moreover, according to an American study conducted by Samantha Fan, and Zoe Lieberman of the University of Chicago, “ to understand a speaker’s intention, one must take the speaker’s perspective. Multilingual exposure may promote effective communication by enhancing perspective taking.” Learning a language, pushes us to acquire a profound knowledge of the other. It allows us to feel that we are integrating a culture.

In addition, and this is the greatest power of learning languages, it offers a more profound self-awareness. To learn a language is to discover who we are, it is to know our values, our passions, our struggles. It is to live new emotions and become better citizensof the world. 

Of course, languages help to succeed in one’s professional life, but what is essential, as Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk said, is that “the more languages you know, the more you are human.”