Language Learning in a Globalized World

In 2000, a year after I graduated from college, I volunteered at a week-long church camp for high school teens. During this time, I happened to overhear a discussion between a camp counselor and a camper about the benefits of learning a foreign language. The counselor, aware that I was learning Portuguese, sought my support to convince the camper. Contrary to his expectations, I advised, "Learn a language if you enjoy learning, or if you're actually going to use it. Not out of a sense of duty." Decades later, I still uphold this perspective, although it's understandably subjective and may not resonate with everyone.

While I am fluent in Portuguese, its practical application in my professional life has been limited. Nonetheless, the advantages of learning other languages extend beyond mere utility. Acquiring a new language can serve as a gateway to understanding different cultures and forming meaningful social connections that broaden one's worldview. This immersion often requires more than just apps like Duolingo or classroom lessons—it demands engaging with the culture directly.

When it comes to "dead" languages, such as ancient Hebrew, Greek, or Latin, their value lies in the rich historical and religious texts they unlock, offering deeper insights than translations can provide.

As for living languages, motivations can vary widely. For example, I learned Portuguese in preparation for church work in Brazil. Others might learn Spanish for business advantages or German as a hobby that could, as in the case of an acquaintance, lead to professional opportunities abroad.

In my experience, while living in Brazil, Portuguese was indispensable for my roles as a language teacher and project manager. However, back in the States, I've seldom used it in a business context, except occasionally at Viacom (now Paramount Global), where I helped facilitate communication with MTV Brazil. Yet, it has been invaluable in my nonprofit endeavors, particularly with a community center in Brazil.

According to Berlitz, the top four languages for business are English, Mandarin, French, and Spanish. The utility of each depends on one's geographic location and industry. For most North Americans, Spanish is perhaps the most practical second language, given its prevalence in business interactions here.

In conclusion, the decision to learn a new language should be guided by personal interest and practical application rather than a mere sense of obligation. Whether for deepening cultural understanding, enhancing professional opportunities, or enriching personal experiences, the value of a language often transcends mere business utility. As we navigate our globalized world, the languages we choose to learn can significantly shape our interactions and perspectives, making them a powerful tool for both personal and professional growth.

See Also:
They Don't Speak Spanish in Brazil (The Uberlandia Observer)

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