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Why learn a foreign language?

If you were a speaker of, say, Finnish, you would not be asking this question.  The answer is very obvious: no one outside Finland speaks Finnish, and if you want to travel or have any dealings with the outside world at all, you have to speak another language (probably English).

If, however, you are a speaker of English, the answer is not so clear.  As speakers of what has become the international language, we are not obliged to learn another language in quite the same way.   When we deal with people from another country, they often speak English; when we travel overseas, we can nearly always find someone somewhere who speaks English; and it is very clear which is the first language of the Internet.

Yes, but...
  1.  If you have never learnt another language, you have missed out on a key experience which millions of other people have had: understanding the ways in which languages can differ, realising that the way your language conveys meaning is not necessarily the “right” way, just one way among dozens of possible ways.
  2. It seems a little unfair that we expect other people to devote a lot of time, money and energy to learning English so that they can communicate with us if we’re not prepared to make any effort at all.  After all, it’s just a matter of luck that we were born to speak English and not one of the 6,000 or so other languages in the world.
  3. New Zealand is reliant upon links with other countries for its prosperity, and the majority of its trade now is with non-English-speaking countries.  Why should our international partners be keen to trade with us if we make no serious attempt to understand their languages and their cultures?     
  4. When you travel in a country without a knowledge of the language, in some ways you only scratch the surface; only when you know the language do you realise how much you would otherwise be missing.
  5. If you have never looked at another language, it is doubtful that you can ever really understand your own.
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    Rachel Booth
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