After living in the beautiful bilingual city of Barcelona, I became obsessed with languages. From trying to understand Catalan in my law classes to reading Spanish texts on history, art, and literature in my philology classes, my brain exploded with new words from both the Catalan and Spanish languages.
But the biggest thing that I learned about my time living in a bilingual city (where you hear English everyday, and probably every other language in the touristy center of the city)…. is that languages are powerful.
They are enriching, giving, and signs of compassion between humans. They open new doors to new lands and cultures and people that you’d never even think you’d be able to meet. They grant new opportunities, new beginnings, and connections to cultures long past.
So for all of you out there that are thinking the slightest bit about learning a new language, do it! It may be hard, but don’t lose hope! And here are 4 reasons why it’ll all be worth the struggle.
Knowing a new language opens up new doors for travel. Imagine, if you knew the language of everywhere that you wanted to travel, solo travel wouldn’t be quite as intimidating, would it? Where would you go, what would you do, and who would you meet?
You could ask for directions, make friends with the locals, and travel with the confidence that you know what you’re doing and where you’re going and what you’re eating. You could read information on the plaques at historical sights, read an ancient text, or follow a traditional recipe. You could order off a menu at a local cafe, read the daily paper, or understand what the metro stop names actually mean. Pretty rad.
2. More friends!
One of my favorite parts of traveling was meeting the locals and exchanging conversations. While many Europeans knew English, there were always times that using a combination of English and a different language helped ease the flow of the conversation on both sides.
The great thing about languages is that you don’t even have to be fluent to carry on a conversation. It can be as simple as knowing another romance language and using English and Spanish to talk with an Italian. Simply knowing part of a new language is enough for a good conversation and a good time.
And here’s another little hint about communicating with others in their native language: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and laugh at yourself. Goodness knows that I’ve made my fair share of mistakes (especially when I did my first presentation in Catalan), but mistakes are part of life and most definitely part of learning a language. So just take the plunge and make a new friend in the process. They will be thankful you’re trying!
For all you students out there, learning another language can expand your intellectual horizons beyond your greatest imaginations.
For me, learning Spanish allowed me to study compare translations of texts, treaties, and court documents in two different languages for my thesis. For an academic buff like me, that was incredibly exciting. Your sources double, triple even, and your work can accommodate the views and arguments of more than just those who have had the experience (and privilege) of learning English.
In all of my social science and humanities classes this year, I have used Spanish in research reports. Whether it be researching reproductive health rights in Argentina, European immigration policy or Even just knowing and being comfortable in a Romance language has allowed me to utilize sources in Catalan and Portuguese… something I never thought was possible- and something that gave me bragging rights among my friends!
4. Cultural awareness
When you learn a new language, you are able to travel to new places and meet new people, and consequently you’re able to learn about different cultures. You can exchange ideas and traditions and engage in conversations about why you do the things that you do in your culture. Who knows, you might even be invited to take part in different cultural traditions!
You can understand how vital ensuring the survival of a language is for sustaining culture. Before I lived in Barcelona, I had no idea that the Catalan language existed. In fact, I was pretty shocked when my professors insisted on teaching in Catalan rather than Spanish. However, over time I learned that the Catalan language was a point of pride, of unity, and of a whole different culture within Spain.
The language had been suppressed for years under Franco’s dictatorship, during which hundreds of thousands of Catalans were denied the opportunity to express themselves. Now that they can speak in their native tongue and embrace their culture, they do. And that’s pretty awesome. Since I’ve been back in the states, I’ve studied Catalan independence, done research in the native language, and have taken an interest in learning the language for real.
5. It is a new adventure
Seriously. If you ever need a new hobby, try learning a new language. When you learn a new language you can transport yourself away from where you’re living. It’s like a book or a movie, but better. Because learning a new language means more books to read and more movies to watch (and some new food to eat along the way).
Simply put, learning a new language is an opportunity to travel simply by staying where you are. So if you are low on vacation days, or yearning for a cheap vacation, open a book and begin.
There are so many more reasons to learn a language: to sharpen your brain, to add something to your resume, to learn about your family history, to find something to do with your spare time. What will be your motivation to learn a new language?