Four Reasons to Study a Rare Language
Most students around the world will end up studying a second language at some point during their education. Whether you learned to count to ten in Spanish from children's television, studied French at A-Levels, or plan to minor in German at university, you probably understand a word or two in a language that differs from your mother tongue. And if you have any aspirations for an international career, it's likely that you're already working to acquire a second language. But there are more reasons to study languages than just job opportunities, and you don't have to stick with the 'Big Three' (Chinese, Spanish, and English). Here are four reasons to learn a new language.
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1. Languages are good for you
There is tons of research out there regarding the benefits of learning languages and multilingualism. Children who learn multiple languages have better problem-solving, multi-tasking, and decision-making skills and adults who learn an additional language can improve these abilities as well. Multilingualism also helps to protect your brain from dementia and Alzheimer's, can improve your memory and perception, and helps to make you more fluent in your mother-tongue. And it doesn't matter which language you learn, or whether it's your second or seventeenth language. The act of learning a language stimulates your brain and has been compared to mental exercise. So, what's the key to gaining and keeping the benefits of language-acquisition? Using it! Once you've brushed up on your Italian or learned a bit of Swahili, it's time to hit the road and start speaking. Don't be afraid to make mistakes – that's another plus to learning a language. You gain confidence and self-esteem.
2. Languages equal job opportunities
Many people study languages to better their chances in a certain job-market or because a second language is required for their field. But learning a rare language can have added benefits in the job-market. While languages like Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and English are in high-demand, they're also the most frequently studied languages which means that jobs that require them can be highly competitive. But if you choose to study a rare language, you might find that your new skill is both marketable and scarce. Consider your other skills, education, and career goals – is there a specific type of job or field that you have in mind? Embassy employees with local-language skills are highly sought-after, so learning Indonesian or Portuguese could land you a very exciting job. Or perhaps you're planning to major in geology or literature and have a passion for the North. Swedish, Estonian, or Russian could open all sorts of doors come graduation. Or find something a bit out-there. Endangered languages are always looking for learners (and teachers), and even made-up languages like Klingon or Elvish could give a film-studies student the edge post-graduation.
3. Languages reveal culture
If you're an English speaker who has studied or traveled abroad, you've probably noticed that many places around the world are very accessible to English-speakers. And that's great. Sometimes it's nice to navigate a foreign city easily, or order food without worrying that you'll end up with fried tarantulas (unless, of course, you were deliberately ordering fried tarantulas.) But the problem with only speaking, or relying on, one language is that you might never get past the most basic elements of a foreign culture. Culture is like an iceberg – you only see the very top - and learning a new language can give you a greater sense of the culture attached to the words. In fact, English already borrows lots of foreign words and phrases because they have no direct equivalent. You've probably heard of schadenfreude but did you know that the German word Kummerspeck (grief-bacon) means the weight you gain from emotional eating? Or that the word for butterfly in Norwegian literally translates to 'summer-bird,' which is rather poetic and indicative the country's northern location. And a foreign language won't just give you a cultural in – it can help you make friends and connections. If you've tried to learn a language, you probably realize how difficult it is to express yourself with a limited vocabulary. Now imagine trying to make friends or negotiate a job contract with a handful of phrases. Learning a new language could be the key to all sorts of future adventures and endeavors.
4. Languages can fund your studies
Speaking of the future, learning a rare language could fund your future and not just as a job-prospect. Students who study languages will have a wealth of scholarships and funding opportunities, but again those based on the 'Big Three' will be more selective. If you study a rare language, you could find that the scholarships associated with it are more open or less competitive. This also applies to languages you may already speak or understand. There are lots of scholarships out there for the children and grandchildren of immigrants, which means if you grew up speaking Polish with your babcia or Turkish with your anneanne, you could find some very generous funding opportunities.
Elizabeth Koprowski is an American writer and travel historian. She has worked in the higher education system with international students both in Europe and in the USA.