We Americans have never been big on learning a second language, but maybe it’s time we reconsidered that attitude.
True, we already speak the world’s dominant tongue, but there are a ton of benefits to learning a new language. Studying foreign language helps us better understand all language, including our own. Being multi-lingual is an obvious advantage in the business world, especially in this age of globalization. It also broadens one’s cultural horizons by allowing you to enjoy foreign writing and film in its original form.
In researching my book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think, I discovered that the happiest retirees enjoy lots of hobbies, many of them new pursuits. Research also shows that learning new things later in life helps keep the brain healthy and nimble. Post-career is the perfect time to pick up a new language, especially if you plan lots of overseas travel.
The Economist magazine recently tried to answer the question, what’s the best language to learn? Here are the candidates:
Chinese – This one certainly makes sense based on China’s huge population and growing economic clout. But, the magazine notes, the same was said about learning Japanese in the 1980’s, a time when the pundits all said Japan would soon rule the economic world. What’s more, so long as China retains its character-based system, Chinese is unlikely to become a true global language. In fact, fewer and fewer Chinese are mastering those complex characters.
Spanish – It’s the second most used international language after English, and is spoken by some 400 million people around the world. Knowing Spanish can enhance your travel experience in 20-plus countries and facilitate communication with the increasingly important Hispanic population here at home. It’s relatively easy to learn and provides a base for picking up French and Italian. You know, in your spare time.
Arabic – If you’re looking for a serious, multi-year, mind-expanding challenge, try Arabic. For openers, it requires you to learn a new alphabet; one in which a letter can have different shapes depending on where it appears in a word. The spelling and grammar are nothing like Western languages. You may never become fluent in Arabic, but the chase will provide endless satisfaction.
Brazilian Portuguese — If you have an interest in Latin America, business or otherwise, this is a great addition to your linguistic arsenal. Brazil is on the rise with 190 million people and good economic prospects. If you speak Spanish or French, you have a great start on Portuguese.
Latin – People will tell you Latin is dead, but that’s not true. The language of ancient Rome lives on in Italian and Spanish. English is packed with Latin-derived words and phrases. Learning Latin can better help you understand other languages, including our mother tongue, and allow you to read some timeless works in their original, including the writings of Virgil, Ovid, Cicero and Julius Caesar.
French – It’s only 16th when ranked by the number of native speakers, but French is a hugely influential language. It’s widely used in diplomacy and business; the preferred language of elites in many small countries around the world. Mastering French will also allow you to enjoy some of the world’s best literature without the diminishment that results from translation.