Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Why learning a language is just as good as travelling, or better

(One language I'm not going to learn: Estonian. Sorry guys, it's way too difficult. Cute, though).

I've always liked learning languages - I speak German pretty well, have had good moments with Japanese, and dabbled pretty unsuccessfully in Slovak and Spanish. When I travel, I always try to learn at least a few basics - greetings, numbers - to use when I'm in another country. But recently I read something that summarised my feelings about languages very well. It was a quote from a Chinese radio station manager, Wang Lu, in James West's book Beijing Blur, and she said:
When you grasp a second language your entire life experience - your world, the size of your world - doubles. It does get you closer to the the truth. It does remind you to think twice.
It's not only about communicating more naturally with more people, but you get to understand how other cultures tick - even from the differences in the way people need to put sentences together, you can learn a lot about their thought processes and cultural norms. Here in Australia, second language learning is in a pretty poor way, and I guess it's similar in most English-speaking countries because it's too easy for people to think that since "everybody" is learning English, they don't need to bother learning another language.

Wrong! There's much more to learning a second language than just communication - you can learn an entirely extra way to think about the world. Try it and see!


  1. Wow! Japanese! That just doesn't wrap around my tongue. But like you, I always try to learn at least a few words before I visit a country. Thai is an other language that just doesn't agree with me. To judge by the looks I got - I must have insulted quite a few people.

  2. nicely written!:)
    I would not have been able to look at that from this perspective had I not learnt English:)
    But the study took me ages! And I still have hard time forcing myself to start with yet another language. Everybody speaks English!:)

  3. So true!

    If I hadn`t learnt a second language I never would of met my husband...well I might have met him but I wouldn`t of married him! haha!

    I like the quote.

  4. @Fida, I've never tried to learn to speak Thai, but I do love how it looks, that beautiful curly script!

    @Anon, I can understand how you'd feel about learning a third language - unfortunately that's how most English speakers feel about trying to learn a second.

    @Lulu, same! What language does your husband speak? Mine is German and at home we speak a funny mixed version of German and English - probably nobody else could understand us, but I kind of like that!


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