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The Complete Guide to Learning a Language
The Complete Guide
to Learning a
, by
Gill James

Why learn languages?

10 good reasons why you should be learning a foreign language (#2-4)

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2. To improve employment potential

"[T]he English language alone is probably sufficient if all we need to do is buy our products abroad, if we need to purchase foreign goods and services. But when it comes to selling a product abroad, you have to understand the psychology and the belief structure of your client. If you are selling America abroad and telling America's story abroad [...] then you have to understand the value systems of that foreign public that you are speaking to." - Dr. Dan Davidson, President of the American Councils on International Education

If businesses are to effectively compete in a global economy, they must learn to deal with other cultures on their own terms. Companies that plan to do business abroad therefore have a dire need for bilingual or multilingual employees. Businesses that intend to compete internationally need employees who can competently communicate in the locales where they do business. Employees who speak one language can communicate only with people who speak that same language.

Business is not the only area of employment where language competencies are needed, however. Multiple government agencies, the travel industry, engineering, communications, the field of education, international law, economics, public policy, publishing, advertising, entertainment, scientific research, and an broad array of service sectors all have needs for people with foreign language skills.

Whatever your career goals, knowing a language certainly won't hurt your employability. Chances are that knowing languages will open up employment opportunities that you would not have had otherwise. And you will be able to command a greater salary in the workplace. All else being equal, knowing languages gives you an edge over monolingual applicants competing for the same jobs.

Which language would be most beneficial in the career you'd like to pursue? See our Career Resources pages for help deciding!

Book tips: Here are some additional resources that make a solid connection between foreign languages and employment potential and offer practical guidance in using languages to land a job:

Great Jobs for Foreign Language Majors, by Julie DeGalan, 272 p. (2007). This book discusses career options for foreign language majors and covers every aspect of the job search, including assessment of skills and talents, exploring options, making a smooth transition from college to career, conducting an effective job search, and landing the job. A variety of jobs are represented, with worthwhile advice concerning the strategies involved in securing these positions.

Careers in Foreign Languages, by Blythe Camenson, 256 p. (2001). Both first-time job hunters and those looking to change careers will benefit from exploring the rewarding paths outlined here. Detailed overviews of a range of professions and expert advice covering the entire job-search process show readers how to launch a successful career of their choice.

The World is a Class: How and Why to Teach English Overseas, by Caleb Powell, 66 p. (2002). This compact volume contains much practical information about how to teach English just about anywhere that people want to learn English as as a foreign language. Gives beginners a broad overview of issues to consider, pitfalls to avoid, cultural differences to be aware of, how to negotiate a contract and communicate effectively with employers and more. This book is definitely worth the modest price for anyone thinking about or just beginning a stint teaching English abroad.

3. To increase native language ability

"Those who know nothing of foreign languages, knows nothing of their own." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Research shows that knowledge of other languages boosts students' understanding of languages in general and enables students to use their native language more effectively. This applies to specific language skills as well as overall linguistic abilities. Foreign language learners have stronger vocabulary skills in English, a better understanding of the language, and improved literacy in general. Higher reading achievement in the native language as well as enhanced listening skills and memory have been shown to correlate with extended foreign language study. These results are apparent in several studies as well as in test scores. With each additional year of foreign language instruction taken, a student's scores on college and graduate school entrance exams such as the SATs, ACTs, GREs, MCATs, and LSATs improve incrementally.

4. To sharpen cognitive and life skills

"We have strong evidence today that studying a foreign language has a ripple effect, helping to improve student performance in other subjects." - Richard Riley, U.S. Secretary of Education under Bill Clinton

Because learning a language involves a variety of learning skills, studying a foreign language can enhance one's ability to learn and function in several other areas. Children who have studied a language at the elementary level score higher on tests in reading, language arts, and math. People who have learned foreign languages show greater cognitive development in areas such as mental flexibility, creativity, and higher order thinking skills, such as problem-solving, conceptualizing, and reasoning.

In addition to cognitive benefits, the study of foreign languages leads to the acquisition of some important life skills. Because language learners learn to deal with unfamiliar cultural ideas, they are much better equipped to adapt and cope in a fast-changing world. They also learn to effectively handle new situations. In addition, the encounter with cultures different from one's own leads to tolerance of diverse lifestyles and customs. And it improves the learner's ability to understand and communicate with people from different walks of life.

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