Children are told that by learning a new language, they not only will have access to a brand new culture, but they’ll be making themselves more valuable in the job market. And adults hear that too. Time and time again, we are encouraged to take lessons or sign up for online courses to improve our language skills.
I’m part of the group that would encourage learning a new language. But acquiring a language isn’t possible without the time and motivation necessary to practice new vocabulary and phrases. And in a country where one language dominates, like in the United States, how do you go about practicing a language that you rarely get to speak? The real question is, is fluency necessary in such a country?
Certain jobs require fluency—jobs such as translation and interpretation, and even some airlines’ flight attendants! But others don’t require any sort of language ability. While I love knowing more than one language, I can’t fault anyone for not wanting to learn one or feeling as though they don’t need to learn another language.
It’s unfair to compare North Americans to Europeans when it comes to the number of languages spoken by the average citizen. The close proximity of countries in Europe does foster a better atmosphere for learning new languages and using them more frequently. So what’s the motivation for us?
My motivation? I try to practice my French as much as possible because I want to continue to visit my hometown and converse with my family and friends in a language they better understand. And I practice my Spanish because it opens so many doors for future travels!
What’s your motivation? Have you chosen to learn a new language or have you decided to spend the energy elsewhere?
Further reading: The Debate: Should Americans learn languages? (Livemocha blog)