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Why you MUST learn a foreign language

Last updated on: September 2, 2011 10:29 IST

Image: Why learning a foreign language is important
Photographs: Uttam Ghosh
Yogita Kasture, a foreign language and soft skills trainer tells you why learning a foreign language is important, citing examples from daily experiences.

I was pretty amused the way my daughter Ketaki slammed the phone while talking to me.

She was so angry, she could hardly speak.

Ketaki was accompanying her grandparents on their Europe tour.

During their transit flight at the Paris airport, her granny happened to ask one of the airport officials for directions. Instead of helping the old laady, he replied, "Sorry Mam, I don't speak English" and politely turned away.

Ketaki, who had basic knowledge of French language could not resist an arrogant remark in French on the situation.

Although she had settled her scores with the French official, who was astonished and embarrassed, of course, to hear her speak French. That day, she couldn't wait to call me up and narrate the entire episode.

The moment she realised that I was enjoying her conversation, she banged the phone.

Although miles apart, I am sure she too was recollecting the days, when I would pester her to learn either French or German along with her Sanskrit lessons.

Language and culture go hand in hand

Image: Learning another language can also help you to communicate with local immigrant populations at home
Speaking a new language helps you to get to know another people and culture, as language and culture go hand in hand. Because language simultaneously defines and is defined by the world around us, learning another language opens one's mind to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world.

An obvious reason to learn a new language is to be able to communicate with the people who speak it. This includes both the people you meet when traveling as well as people in your own community.

Speaking another's language shows respect for that culture, and people in every country prefer it when tourists make an effort to speak the local language, even if all you can say in it is "hello" and "

Advantage of knowing the native language

Image: An incident PL Deshpande had during his visit to France (Text in Marathi)
This is with reference to an experience that veteran stage artiste PL Deshpande had during his visit to France due to lack of knowledge of French language.

Well, I am sure that each one would agree that each language has its special effect. Similarly, if this particular incident (explained in Marathi on the left) were to be narrated in English, it would have lost its essence and hence I am not even trying.

But the point I wanted to make here is that when you speak another language, you can enjoy literature, film, and music in the original language.

It is extremely difficult for a translation to be a perfect replica of the original; the best way to understand what the author really meant is to read what the author actually wrote.

The above was a very entertaining way of explaining the advantage of knowing the native language.

But what happens when you really land up in trouble? In some cases, you may end up staying hungry, because you cannot tell anyone what you want.

A case of misunderstanding

Image: Signs and symbols could be misunderstood
Following is a classic example of misunderstanding when people don't understand each others' language?

Richard Robertson is an American student studying Geography. He is on his study tour to Germany to do a research on agriculture in rural areas of Germany.

While wandering in the countryside, Richard gets hungry and starts searching for good a restaurant. Suddenly it starts raining so he runs to the nearest Kneipe-- similar what we Indians popularly call as "Chai ki Tapari".

He wants to order for some food. The waiter at the restaurant is unable to understand what he wants even when Robert tries explaining in sign language.

After a lot of efforts Robert comes up with an idea, takes the paper napkin and draws a picture of what dish he wants.

The image he drew, looked something like this. (Refer the image on the left).

Can you guess what he desires from the picture?

Yes, it's mushroom that he wanted to eat.

And to his utter disappointment, the waiter brings him an UMBRELLA!

Why is it important?

Image: Language skills are important for business and the economy

Learning a foreign language at the earliest possible age opens up a whole new dimension for children.

It greatly benefits their reading and writing in their own language, and there's evidence that, like musical education, it contributes significantly to the development of individual intelligence; and it concretely improves overall results at school.

Early language learning can also have a vital social function. By learning a new language, you develop your personality, you gain new horizons, but at the same time you reinforce your own identity, and therefore also your self-confidence.

It is widely accepted that a new language also opens up a whole new culture, and gives our lives a new dimension.

The importance of language skills for business and the economy has been very much in the public debate lately

If language skills are to be improved, everyone needs to play their part.

Who can help?

Parents must recognise the importance of foreign languages, encourage their children to take an interest and demand that schools give their children the opportunity to benefit from all that languages have to offer; the future of their children is at stake.

Teachers need to dedicate some extra efforts and encouragement to create interest amongst their students.

Universities should promote language departments wherever possible, or combine language teaching with other subjects.

Government, local education authorities and schools must give language learning a firm place in school life and enable as many pupils as possible to benefit from the opportunities it creates. This is also a matter of social justice, because languages facilitate social mobility.

Lastly, the general public and the media should recognise the value of language learning for future generations.

Investing in the future

Image: if you know a foreign language, you will have an edge over all those applying for the conventional jobs
"What do I do after learning these languages? What is the purpose?"

Well, if you are thinking on the above lines, remember that if you know a foreign language, you will have an edge over all those applying for the conventional jobs. You can work as an interpreter in various sectors in Service, Marketing & Production departments for reputed multinational corporate firms.

At the same time, you can also apply to the Embassy, or other government organisations, even consider joining the Civil Forces, Foreign Trade, etc.

You can also be a foreign language trainer if you take up advanced courses like MMB, AF, DELF.

In the recent trends the KPOs and BPOs offer impressive remuneration and other facilities for those who are multilingual. You can work from your home on translations, online assignments.

Many advertising agencies require multilingual persons as script writers, Public Relations companies look for such extra talents for liasoning.

So, what are you waiting for?

Which foreign language should I go for?

For those of you who are wondering which language to consider, here's a ready reckoner that will briefly tell you the scope and benefits of learning the language.

To begin with, French and English are the two global languages


  • It is the second most frequently taught language after English,
  • It is the official language of 28 countries
  • It is spoken on five continents
  • It is the official working language of many international organisations (NATO, UNESCO, European community etc.)


  • It is a key language in the European Union.
  • Gateway to the rapidly growing markets of Central and Eastern Europe
  • Germany is the world's largest European trading partner
  • Widely used as a business and scientific language in Europe, Russia, and parts of Asia


  • It is the most commonly used foreign language spoken in the US
  • It is a dominant language spoken in 21 countries on five continents
  • It is the fifth most widely spoken in the world, used by 300 million people
  • Approximately, 17.5 million people (10% of the US population) speak Spanish

Besides, these, if you were analyse the industry trends, here's some help.

If you are from a technical background, you will find German more beneficial. For Hospitality sector, (Hotel industry, aviation etc), Pharmaceuticals and Cosmetics industry, French is preferred.