Supporting the case for Second-Language Acquisition
Language truly makes the world go round. Take a moment and think seriously about it. Consider waking up in the morning, then going through your daily routine. Your morning rituals, your day at the office or in the classroom, your trek to work, the gym, everything. Now, picture yourself doing all the activities that you do in a day, without the use of spoken or written language. You would find yourself having to fumble together some form of sign language and motions to get your point across. I think that by now you have the picture. Language is very important; we would not have come this far in our societies without uniform communication.
What is language?
If you type in language to a search engine you are going to get a list a mile long of different definitions. Mine is basic. It is the art of communicating with one another and expressing one’s thoughts through the use of sounds with commonly accepted meanings. Whether you agree with my definition or not, I think that we can both agree that language is communication.
In addition, language can be so much more. It can also be the heart and soul of a specific culture. The more specific the culture, the less likely you will be to understand it without knowing the language. They say that several hundred to several thousand languages were lost almost instantaneously by the European conquest of the Americas. Even more languages are becoming endangered as we speak. When a language dies, so does its history. It is impossible to ever relive the way people envisioned something without the language itself. Therefore, a language also holds customs, culture, and most importantly, the story of those who carry it.
Why is language important?
If language is communication, then communication is living in a functional society. Communication is everything from business negotiations to how you like your steak cooked. Communication helped us to build our communities, and helps us to continue working for a better future. Language unites ethnic groups, societies, and countries. If you don’t think that language is the complete function of our society, try going a day without it.
If communication is as important as I believe it to be, then it definitely has its implications on the road. Consider yourself traveling: you are in a foreign place. You get lost and need to find your way. However, you have absolutely no knowledge of the local language. What do you do? Well, sure there is hand signs or pointing, but not being able to find at least some common ground of understanding might not get you too far.
The truth is, that as you travel the world you will need to be diverse in all ways, including which languages you can speak. By saying ‘speak,’ I am more referring to the fact that you know enough of a second-language to get the basics. Certainly, a greater degree of fluency would be more helpful, but general knowledge can also make a big difference.
I do not believe that it is enough just to say that ‘everyone speaks English’. Sure, many people in the world speak English, but English is only 1 of about 5,000 languages commonly spoken on Earth. English is definitely not the native tongue of the majority of those people. It is both respectful and a good learning experience to practice a second-language.
“He who knows no foreign language, knows nothing of his own.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Knowing a foreign language will actually teach you about your own language. Remember all of those intricate grammar rules that you learned in grade school? Or how about the differences between verbs, adjectives, and adverbs? Maybe even route words that help you to decipher the meaning of a word or phrase? All will become clear when learning a new language. People that learn languages learn more about the purpose of their own language.
As native speakers we have a tendency to just speak and use slang or poor grammar, meanwhile neglecting the actual construct of a language. When you begin to learn a language you are going to realize why people want to speak properly. It is more precise.
How has my experience been different?
I can honestly say that the difference between traveling with knowledge of a second-language and not knowing any language at all is huge. My first time traveling, I had very little knowledge of anything. Although, I may have picked up a few phrases here and there, I was not able to completely communicate ever. I recall multiple frustrating times where I wanted to translate for someone or converse with a person that I had met, but was not able to because I had no other language skills.
On the other hand, the times after that when I have traveled, knowledge of another language has completely changed my experience. I have met people who I otherwise would not have because of communication barriers. I made connections with new groups of people. I was able to better negotiate pricing. Most importantly, I was able to get what I needed, which in my opinion is a fundamental principle of language and communication.
How should you learn a language?
The best way to ever learn a language is to start by being in the culture. The problem with this is that you have to challenge yourself. I have met many people who have stayed in a foreign country for years (Sometimes 1o-15) and could not speak that language. Others that I have met, spent only a few months to a year somewhere and leave fluent.
In my opinion, the best way to learn a language is a combination of everything. You should use books, friends, the internet, music, the real world, programs, and practice when you can. Sure there are great programs and software to use, but the only person that will really make you learn a language is you.
Language learning is a topic that I feel strongly about. I believe that it is fundamental to both cross-cultural sharing and communication in general. People who can speak multiple languages usually have an advantage over others because they can connect to a more diverse group of people. It will also likely have benefits in other areas of your life, whether it be career or relationships. What this article boils down to is, you are going to have a different experience by traveling with the knowledge of a foreign language. It is a must for long-term travelers. To be multi-lingual is an opportunity to walk in another man’s shoes.
A great tool to help with language learning is Live Mocha (pictured above). It has multiple courses for 30+ languages for free. It has nearly every major language in the world.
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