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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?