By Dr. Karolina Kopczynski
Faculty Member, School of Arts, Education and Humanities
You might be wondering why someone might want to learn a second language. After all, it is not that easy; you cannot just watch a “how-to” YouTube video. The process of learning a second language requires dedication, self-motivation and patience.
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There are many reasons why people decide to learn a foreign language. In many European countries such as Italy, Spain, Norway, Greece and Poland, learning another language is not an option; students as early as age 9 are learning a second language. By the time they are in middle or high school, they study a second foreign language.
Knowing foreign languages gives those students an opportunity to find employment in a different country. But why is it useful to be fluent in a foreign language? There are five good reasons.
Reason #1: Learning a Foreign Language Has Cognitive Benefits
Some individuals learn a foreign language as it provides many cognitive benefits. According to a study conducted in Sweden, there are many benefits to the brain.
The Swedish researchers surveyed two groups of scholars: one group was studying a foreign language, and the other a rigorous, non-linguistic subject. The MRI scan displayed that the brain of scholars learning a foreign language increased in size.
Other studies have also revealed that learning a foreign language improves one’s memory, multi-tasking ability, critical thinking, problem-solving skills and listening skills. Learning a foreign language also improves one’s ability to cope with degenerative diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Reason #2: Knowing Another Language Is Useful for Travel
Another reason to learn another language is to travel. When I’m traveling, I have seen many individuals with a small phrasebook or a Google translation app, trying to communicate with locals.
Many travelers in foreign countries have learned that locals appreciate other people even knowing a few words in their native language. I have traveled to over 20 countries, and I can personally attest to the fact that knowing a bit of the language makes getting around much easier when I’m looking for a taxi, buying a train ticket, or ordering food.
Knowing a foreign language also helps you avoid making a cultural faux pas. Talking with other people in their own language also allows for better exploration of local places, not just the touristy ones. There is nothing like discovering and participating in local traditions.
Reason #3: Being Bilingual Is Essential in Business
Some individuals learn a foreign language for business purposes. Many employers view being bilingual no longer as an option, but rather as a requirement for their employees.
For instance, knowing that an employee will be able to communicate with citizens of different nations opens many doors; a successful business is all about effective networking with current and future customers. Many employees see the benefits of being bilingual, as it makes their job and workday much more effortless when they can easily communicate with clients without the need to hire a translator.
Nowadays, there is no doubt that being bilingual is beneficial in many professions. That includes teachers, healthcare professionals, police officers, firefighters, customer service representatives, human resources representatives, social workers, marketers and information technology professionals, to name a few.
Reason #4: Knowing a Foreign Language Creates Social Connections with Family Members Who Live Abroad
One more reason why people learn a foreign language is that the other language is a way of connecting with other family members who live abroad and speak a language other than English. In such a case, a foreign language serves as a bridge, allowing family members to communicate via Zoom and to travel in order expand their perspectives on life.
Reason #5: Learning a Language Is a Fun Hobby
There are also individuals for whom learning a foreign language is a hobby. I have studied nine languages, and if I only had more time, I would learn more.
Knowing all of these languages has allowed me to meet some fantastic people, try some delicious dishes, and learn much about cultures, values, beliefs, and traditions that I would have never known otherwise. As we already know, firsthand experience of another culture is much different than reading an article or a blog or watching a video clip.
Regardless of why a person chooses to study a foreign language, he/she will benefit from knowing one or more. It is challenging, but also very rewarding.
About the Author
Dr. Karolina Kopczynski is a native of Poland and moved to the USA as a high school student. Her passion is learning foreign languages and being able to travel and communicate with others to broaden and deepen her perspectives as a global learner.
She earned her B.A in Spanish from UMASS, Amherst, where she also studied, French, German, Italian and Russian. She completed her study abroad program in Oviedo, Spain. Dr. Kopczynski obtained her M.A.T. in Spanish and ESOL from the School for International Training, VT in 2000. She also taught herself Greek and lived in Greece.
In 2010, Dr. Kopczynski completed her Ed.D. from the University of Phoenix in Curriculum and Instruction. Her dissertation topic was “Student Proficiency in Spanish Taught by Native and Non-native Spanish instructors.” In 2015, she completed two additional master’s degrees from the University of Jaén in Spain and the University Iberoamericana in Puerto Rico in Applied Linguistics in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language and Formation of Professors of Spanish as a Foreign Language. Dr. Kopczynski has experience instructing Spanish at all levels and designing online Spanish courses.
Recently, Dr. Kopczynski presented at the Mass Foreign Language (MaFla) regarding “Reading & Listening Comprehension and Writing & Speaking Proficiency = Online Applications”; at a Canvas Network international webinar on the “Use of Technology in a Foreign Language Classroom” and at the Wyoming Innovations in Learning Conference on “Boost Engagement and Empower Struggling Learners via Digital Tools.”