The beauty of learning a foreign language
Updated: May 6
I started learning English when I was 3. It was not really my choice (not that any 3-year-old can make choices on its own) but rather a necessity as my family and I had to leave Greece for a while. My parents thought that my transition to another country would be smoother if I could speak some basic English. They thought that being able to understand and communicate would make me feel more at ease and would help me socialize easily. I took some English classes for a month and before I knew it, I was flying across the pond.
Looking back in time and after turning my love for languages into my profession, I can surely say that learning a foreign language is just beautiful. And this goes for any foreign language. Apart from it being a substantial qualification and a factor that increases one’s chances to find a better job, speaking a language IS cool. In fact, I've heard some people saying that the rarer and more difficult the language is, the more interesting the person who has invested time, energy and money is perceived.
But is learning languages only cool? Actually, it is much more.
Learning a new language helps you see things from a different angle. This different perspective has a lot to teach us about the culture and the history of the country where the language is spoken. This can increase one's understanding when speaking with people from the respective country. It gives one the ability to see behind words and place a language within a cultural, social and, in some cases, religious framework. This is exactly where the beauty of each language lies. I remember how surprised I was when I first started learning Arabic and found out how much religion is reflected in everyday expressions. What amazed me the most is the close link between Greek and Arabic in that sense since religious terms are widely used in everyday life in both languages without necessarily reflecting the religious beliefs of the person speaking.
Speaking another language has another benefit to offer: It gives a unique sense of belonging. Landing in a foreign airport far away from home and not being able to read the signs or understand the local language can make one feel slightly out of place. Of course, learning hundreds of foreign languages is not possible nor desirable as a solution to avoid this feeling – however, my point here is that I've noticed a huge change in the way people feel in a foreign country when they are able to understand at least partially what is being said compared to how they feel when they have no clue what everyone is talking about. Understanding, be it fully or partially, makes one feel like a part of a wider social group. Yes, relating with the local culture is probably not possible, but having a slight understanding definitely helps one avoid the feeling of being out of place.
Learning a foreign language is not about the language per se. It demonstrates a genuine intention to meet, understand and get to know other people and cultures. It is driven by curiosity and love for communication as well as people and their cultural baggage.
One last thought: I have been told many times that translators and interpreters are usually open and welcoming, when meeting other people. Could it be because they have ‘opened up’ several times to other cultures and languages and as a result they respect the language and the cultural and spiritual wealth it entails? Could be.
So, do you still think that learning a new language is only cool?