Tony Gurr

Why should we bother to LEARN a foreign language?

In ELT and ELL on 17/02/2011 at 9:07 pm

This may seem like a “dumb” question to many of you – and the first thing that many bilinguals and highly-proficient L2 language speakers think when they see a question like this is “with so many obvious benefits, why would people consider not learning a foreign language?

Many language teaching professionals recognise that there are really no major disadvantages in learning a foreign language – and focus on the fact that the whole experience of learning a new language can be stimulating, fun and very rewarding.


So, what are some of these “rewards”:



  • Lift your own self-esteem and confidence
  • Enter a wider range of communities (both real and virtual)
  • Meet more people from other countries and make more friends
  • Develop your own tolerance and levels of cultural awareness
  • Learn more about your own language and culture
  • Enjoy literature and movies without the “smell” of translation
  • Impress a significant other on a dinner date at foreign restaurant
  • Help you find your “soul-mate” (even if they live thousands of miles away)
  • Support your children with their language learning (and access information more quickly
  • Help stimulate and exercise “more mature” grey matter (and hold off Alzheimer’s)


  • Work and live abroad to gain a broader world view
  • Show you have genuine interest in other nationalities and cultures
  • Feel confident to do and see more on holiday (and enjoy the holiday more)
  • Sample more of the local life and culture on your travels
  • Appreciate more of the local hospitality and humour
  • Impress the locals (and help you get better service)
  • Read signs and avoid getting lost so often
  • Solve holiday problems and emergencies faster
  • Help you avoid tourist traps (and being ripped-off)
  • Break down barriers and the stereotypes that others may have of you and your country


  • Learn more about people and their cultures
  • Improve your own knowledge of your place in our global world
  • Access more cutting-edge research and scientific knowledge
  • Set yourself up with more educational opportunities (and better choices)
  • Take up offers on exchange programmes and study abroad initiatives
  • Help you stand out from the crowd when applying to colleges and universities
  • Learn a second or third language faster
  • Boost your brain power and ability to think logically and more critically (seriously)

Finding a job

  • Choose from a wider range of career options
  • Stand apart from other applicants and their CVs
  • Work with multinational companies and representative offices around the world
  • Obtain a higher starting salary than most monoglots (and earn more in your career)
  • Settle in a new job faster, network and work with foreign employees more effectively
  • Move up the “promotion ladder” faster


  • Meet and interact with more potential clients and business partners
  • Establish rapport with new customers faster
  • Build better business relationships through e-mail and teleconferences
  • Work more easily with suppliers and distributors in other countries
  • Hold more effective face-to-face business meetings (impressing clients and the boss)
  • Deliver better presentations (and show respect to foreign clients)
  • Promote your services and products more effectively on global websites
  • Gain and keep a head-start over your competitors
  • Reach customers you might previously have missed
  • Avoid misunderstandings (and profit loss) caused by things getting lost in translation

Almost all language teachers recognise that language learners do not need a superior IQ, a bi-lingual aptitude or higher-end education background to learn a new language – enthusiasm, patience and effective support are far more important.

Most educators recognise that the future is bilingual and that “learnacy” is today just as important as literacy and numeracy – and that we need to do more to ensure that our educational systems work to develop the capacity of all students to survive in a globalised world.

However, there are many people who disagree that we need to see foreign or second (or even third) language learning as one of the “newer basic skills” for globalised life, work and community engagement. These critics fail to recognise that as our newer, more global world becomes more and more cosmopolitan (and more dependent on communications media and language skills); the possibility of monoglots being left behind economically, intellectually and socially is very real.


My thanks to Gizem, Nazlı, Gülay, Fatma, Linda, Önder, Paul and “Dexter” – for helping me compile and polish the “list”.

  1. […] Why should we bother to LEARN a foreign language?. […]

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