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Why learn a foreign language?

Visits to the Ahmedabad National Book Fair (May 2 - May 7, 2017) have triggered this blogpost. I find myself lost in the world of books, languages, literature, poetry, songs and so much more. When visiting the book fair and attending various workshops and sessions offered there, I felt as if I was living in paradise. After all, a book fair is no less than paradise for book lovers. It set me thinking about languages in general and mother languages in particular. Very quickly, our young generation is losing touch with their own language courtesy the trend of multilingualism, which is fine by itself, but must not let us drift apart from our own traditions and culture. On the other hand, this also set me thinking about an activity that I have been involved in for the past one year. That is learning a foreign language.

What began with resistance, defiance and reluctance has surprisingly turned into acceptance today. While in university, I was dead against the idea of taking up a foreign language as part of studies. Retrospectively, I believe I was immature and lacked knowledge to understand the benefits of learning a foreign language. I was kind of a patriot where my belief lay in the fact that what is the use of learning a foreign language if we are not well-versed with our own. I consider four languages to be my very own. Hindi (my parents come from a Hindi speaking region in India and hence my language roots are definitely Hindi), Marathi (culturally I can trace my roots to Maharashtra) and Gujarati (I have lived in Gujarat all my life and hence Gujarati is close to my heart). By default, English, though a foreign language has also come to be my own because I have studied it all through school and university and I feel I can express myself the best in English. So, I missed an opportunity to learn a foreign language while I was a student. I had no regrets back then. Now in 2017, I do regret why I did not take up a foreign language earlier. (I have an earlier blog post describing my multi-regional, multi-lingual and multi-cultural background - http://68pagesofmylife.blogspot.in/2009/12/3-states-to-where-do-i-belong.html)

In 2016, I enrolled myself, again very hesitantly for a diploma course in French from Alliance Française, Ahmedabad and little did I know that my world was going to change forever. Exposed to foreign language learning for the first time, I realize that learning a foreign language can open a window of opportunities for young people. Right from choosing careers in language, literature, teaching, translation, library sciences and even foreign offices, what can you not do once you master a foreign language! More so, if you pick it up in the very early phase of your life, you are bound to spend a good amount of time with language and eventually fall in love with it. The knowledge of language is a skill which is in great demand these days. It can help you become economically sound, independent and a professional once you decide to pursue it with passion. You may end up working for an embassy, or may be, as a translator for international publication houses or even as a school teacher. The opportunities are limitless. But is it only about choosing a lucrative career? No! For learning a foreign language can do so much more than that.

Once you start learning a foreign language, you also get introduced to a whole new world that exists out there and which you weren't aware of earlier. It takes you to an entire new culture that comprises of food, music, songs, films, poems and books that you will fascinatingly discover when you start your learning journey. A new world will open up and will be ready to welcome you. You will meet new people, learn new things about a country and make new friends. Isn't that wonderful? Your horizons and understanding will expand like never before. And if you are deeply into education and pedagogy, you will also learn innovative techniques of teaching-learning. Apart from that, your awareness of general issues around the world also increases. A foreign language is a great tool to facilitate inter-cultural communication, and if ever, you get an opportunity to be with people from different parts of the world; your foreign language skills will come in handy.

As for me, while learning French, I felt as if I was being introduced to languages in an all together new way. It has been since I learnt English grammar formally, in school and having internalized that knowledge through the practice and use of English, I had forgotten that even grammar, conversation and so many other aspects of language can be fun and interesting to learn. In fact, learning French has helped me better understand many different aspects of English as well and I have been, to a limited extend, able to adopt these new teaching-learning techniques in my own little way, as an educator. In fact, knowledge of a foreign language makes you a people's person. Because communication is the essence of language, it teaches you how to talk, how to present yourself according to the context, how to deal with difficult situations and how to put your point across. An added advantage is of course when you go out with friends and speak in a language that others around you do not understand! They stare at you with amazement. So, you know, learning a foreign language also helps you talk secretly. Definitely your cognitive abilities are bound to scale high once you get acquainted with a foreign language. And if you are fearful of losing touch with your own language because you are learning a foreign language, trust me, these have no basis. As in life, we can balance our love for languages - be they foreign or native to us. Being multi-lingual has its own advantages as long as you don't use language to deride those around you. 

What are you waiting for then? There is nothing like the right age and time to learn a foreign language. You can start doing so whenever you feel you are ready to take the plunge and mark my words ... It will change your life forever! Comme la langue française a changé ma vie ... c'est le temps pour changer votre vie! (Like the French language changed my life, it is now time for you to change yours!)

Forever a foreign language fan!
Nidhi

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