Can Learning a Language Change Your Life?

Posted on 03. Mar, 2014 by in Language Learning

Image (c) uai08 | flickr

What’s the worst excuse not to learn a new language? “I just don’t need to.” Okay, fair enough. Maybe your everyday life doesn’t require any knowledge of a foreign language at the moment. But that doesn’t mean a new language holds no value for you. And if you’re guilty of thinking so, it’s probably because you don’t know what else is out there. Can learning a new language change your life? Here are three irrefutable stories that lead me to believe it can.

Tired of the monolingual American stereotype, Chad Fowler looked around at his predominantly-Indian co-workers and decided to start learning Hindi. He didn’t need to, his co-workers spoke English perfectly well, but he just wanted to do something about his monolingualism. Within a year of studying from books and Bollywood, he and his wife were fairly conversational. Good thing, too, because suddenly when the big software company he worked for needed someone to expatriate to India to open a development center, Chad was able to jump on the opportunity! He and his wife moved to Bangalore, where, as he puts it, they were fearless: “We got to see what India was really like and to experience the immense warmth of its people.” But the story doesn’t stop there. Shortly before they headed home to Kentucky, his wife received an e-mail from a local non-profit seeking a Hindi speaker to translate for a Tibetan Buddhist monk in the area. That opportunity led to a lasting relationship with the non-profit and a number of new friends in the Indian community. As Chad puts it:

As the direct result of learning Hindi (and now a little Tibetan and Kannada), I’ve had some of the greatest career, cultural, social, and spiritual experiences of my life. I’ve made dear friends I could never have met or communicated with, and I’ve learned things that would have been much harder to learn without the language skills. Is learning a language a good use of your time? Absolutely.

Australian WWII-buff Simon Clark headed to Japan after he saw a newspaper ad for a Japanese country club looking for a golf caddy. He began learning Japanese not for his job on the golf course, which only required English, but to help with his WWII studies. Twenty years later, he’s still in Japan working in golf. Why? His English-Japanese bilingualism proved very valuable. Golfers started to take notice of Simon when he began making his own yardage books (booklets providing measurements of a golf course) in Japanese and English. This led Simon to a caddy for a number of pro-golfers, most recently Japanese golfer Ryo Ishikawa. When he set off to Japan, he really went because of his love for WWII-studies, but his language skills led him in a different direction entirely. Not to mention the pro-golf life has taken him around the world, including a recent trip to Hawaii where Simon was able to visit Pearl Harbor for the first time. No wonder Simon says he feels “very lucky”.

Still not convinced? Let me introduce Chuck Smith, one of our language bloggers, wrote a post last year about how learning a language changed his life. That language is Esperanto, but before you scoff and say something silly like “it’s not even a real language,” read his story. Chuck began learning the language on a whim, diving in to the first lesson of a free online course. Within a year, he was hooked and had started the first Esperanto version of Wikipedia. During a fateful backpacking trip in Europe, he met two members of the World Esperanto Youth Organization, who offered him a job in their Rotterdam office. Esperanto continued to open up new career opportunities for Chuck, which took him all the way from the Netherlands to Japan and to sixteen other countries in between! It wasn’t just knowledge of another language that helped him hop all over the globe, it was the contacts he made while learning it. So who’s to say a language isn’t valuable, even an unconventional one like Esperanto. Not to mention that he now gets to blog for us, which is super cool in and of itself!

As these stories show, the limits of your language abilities really are the limits of your experiences. Never underestimate the power of a language—any language—to change your life in unexpected ways. From making friends and networking, to landing new career opportunities, to travelling the world, to meeting someone special, languages have a funny way of showing us what else is out there. So what are you waiting for?

About meaghan

Meaghan is the Social Media Coordinator for Transparent Language, aka the messenger of language news to twitterverse. She once had a love/hate relationship with French, but the two are now very happy together, although one time she was a little unfaithful with a semester of Hausa lessons. @meagmcgon

4 Responses to “Can Learning a Language Change Your Life?”

  1. Carlos López G. 4 March 2014 at 11:26 am #

    Antaŭ du jaroj mi eklernis Esperanton, kaj nuntempe mi havas multe da amikoj tra la mondo. Fakte hieraŭ mi vidis bildon kun la frazo “Dank’al Esperanto mi havas rusajn kaj ukrainajn amikojn kaj forfiku la militistojn”. La pasinta semajnfino mi vidis ĉie la nomon “Esperanto Filmoj”, ĝi estas la entrepreno de Alfonso Cuarón, kiu publike apogas al la Esperanto movado.

    Esperanto permesas al mi vidi la mondon en alia maniero.

    I am more fluent in Esperanto than in English but I’ll try to translate my comment:

    Two years ago, I started learning Esperanto , and now I have a lot of friends around the world. In fact, yesterday I saw a picture with the phrase “Thanks to Esperanto I have Russians and Ukrainians friends, and fuck the military”. Last weekend I saw the name “Esperanto filmoj” everywhere, It is the Alfonso Cuarón’s company, who has publicly shown his support for the Esperanto movement.

    Esperanto lets me see the world in a different way.

  2. V 4 March 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    I can say Dutch has changed my life completely. Without learning the language, I wouldn’t have achieved even a small part of what I actually have because of it. Natives respect people who learn their language and learning the language itself is a respect to the country you live in. No matter if you can communicate with people in English or any other language, learning the native language of the country can make all the difference in the world!!!

  3. Giulia 6 March 2014 at 3:44 pm #

    Wonderful post, thanks a lot for sharing it!

    I can also confirm that learning new languages opened me to people and experiences I could never have had otherwise. Including a frinedship that has been lasting for years in spite of the distance.

    If more people realized this simple truth, the wourld would be a much better place I think.

  4. Leslie 29 June 2014 at 8:00 am #

    Great article! Learning French and Spanish has changed my life. I’ve met people, read books, and seen parts of the world that would have never been possible without knowing these languages. Thanks for pointing out that aspect of it. It’s all about the journey……


Leave a Reply