Language Matters: Is There Still A Case To Study Languages In An English-Dominated World?

by Jeffrey Nelson

Simply put, yes. I will, however, extrapolate a bit further on that in an effort to defend my position armed with facts, personal anecdotes, and a pure love of languages.

Fact #1: There are over 6,000 languages spoken in the world today.

Of those, only a fraction are expected to survive the next few decades. The world is essentially dominated by a handful of languages that we are all familiar with: English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, etc. Going down the list, the languages become less and less recognizable. A surprising number of them are actually endangered and will be extinct within a very short timeframe.

This matters and should encourage language study for a few reasons:

  • Language diversity is a beautiful thing. Language is related to culture which in return is related to the people of that culture. Language lets us explore who we are on a level difficult to do in other ways.
  • A lot of history is captured in these seemingly less-important languages in the form of stories, writings, and other such things. Losing the language means losing the history.

Fact #2: Language learning is great for the brain.

It has been proven over-and-over again that bilingualism comes with a ridiculous amount of benefits and has relatively no negative side effects. As a purely intellectual exercise, learning a second language helps with many different types of ailments, increases brain function, and encourages focus and concentration. That in itself is a win for the language learner.

Fact #3: Learning a language could net you more money.

Additional language skills are proven to net as much as $7,000 per year more on average with respects to salary. In some cases, language skills will mean very little. In other careers, even careers that are not necessarily thought of as language-related, additional language skills may give you a leg up. In the legal field, for example, a multilingual person may be able to carve out a special niche in an otherwise fairly straight-forward position with a fair amount of competition.

Who's Studying What?

Many people are, indeed, studying language today and will continue in the near future. A recent article in the HuffingtonPost speaks to this point about which languages they are studying:

"U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that 95% of American college students studying languages were studying a Western language."

While I'm not pointing fingers, and in fact I speak one of these evil western languages, it's an interesting point that relates to fact #1: more and more people are studying a smaller percentage of the world's languages each year.

The website SchoolChoices.org, which has a huge index of college programs, shows 849 colleges throughout the United States in which one can study Spanish language and literature. Contrarily, it only shows 50 colleges where Chinese language and literature can be studied. This is the imbalance that the previous article brings to light.

All in all, the study of a second (or third, or fourth ...) language makes sense. Speaking another language has benefits with regards to opportunity, intellect, and even economic advantages. However one more point to keep in mind is this: it also has great personal benefits which are hard to put down on paper.

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