Or, why preserving the language we have is important too.
You can’t Google Translate a culture
Debate about the value of language has been trending lately, with a million opinions on whether doctors in Malaysia should be made to have a SPM-pass in BM.
Amongst many other things, the entire discussion reveals a feeling among some that Bahasa Malaysia is being undervalued. And there’s some truth to that.
In this modern world, English is Nombor Satu – simply because with it, you can belong to a global community of up to 1.8 billion people. Also, who needs to learn other languages when there’s the (not-always-reliable) Google Translate?
This American Professor of English And Literature Thinks You Need To Learn Other Languages
In an engaging TED Talk delivered in 2016 and viewed more than 2 Million times, Professor McWhorter shares 5 reasons why he – someone whose academic life is teaching English – thinks you should be learning other languages too.
Scroll all the way to the end to hear it in his own words, or read the list we’ve made for you here.
1. When You Think In A Different Language, You’ll Think Differently
What language do you think in? An easy way to understand this point is to think about our mothers. If they know more than 1 language (or even dialect), chances are that they’re gonna be using different languages for different things.
For example, we have a theory that Malay mothers who speak English most of the time will still scold their children in Malay – because otherwise there’s just no feel.
The Prof has a good point clarifying this in his talk – we’ll leave you to find out at the end of the article. Hint: it involves Bono, Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump.
2. Understand A Language = Understand A Culture (Way Better)
There’s a Malaysian I know who’s travelled the world, doing humanitarian work from Myanmar to Palestine. On his resume, he’s listed a whopping 8 languages that he can communicate in.
That’s impressive in itself, but what’s funny is the story of why he learnt his first foreign language, Japanese. As with all good stories, it all started when he met a Japanese girl who he really, really liked.
But there’s a million more reasons other than romance which could motivate you to learn a language – just so you can truly immerse yourself in a culture.
Love K-Pop or Korean dramas? Learn Korean, and you’ll get so much more from them. Interested in ancient Thai history? Learn Thai, and you can read historical documents for yourself, without the influence of other’s interpretations.
3. Speaking More Than One Language Is Good For Your Health
Being bilingual (or whatever the word is for knowing 8 languages) is like exercise – for your brain.
Here’s what Professor John McWhorter has to say about it:
Here’s research from the BBC that backs up the idea that speaking more than one language does amazing things for your brain. Need we say more?
4. It’s Just Really, Really Fun
Anyone who’s been lucky enough to learn a completely new language, from a passionate and experienced teacher, knows what we’re talking about.
As university students, we sometimes forget the joy of discovering something new for the very first time. Think back to when you learnt how to ride a bicycle, or drive, or swim, or walk.
Sure, it took a lot of effort. But you had fun along the way! The moment a new language starts clicking for you is going to feel like the first time you walked five steps without falling. You’ll be shocked that you’ve come so far – and soon enough, you’ll be running.
5. Learning New Languages Has NEVER Been Easier
And again, Google Translate doesn’t really count.
You could enrol in a class. For example, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM, or UIAM, if you prefer) has a specialised centre called Institute for Language Enhancement (IFLA), which offers classes for the public in Mandarin, Japanese, French, Turkish and German. You can start from an absolute beginner level.
Or, you could go online. Youtube is an amazing resource. There are hundreds of apps that teach you new languages – Duolingo is one of them that’s completely free.
Join an online community, and practice your new language by making new friends, all of whom will be extremely supportive of your efforts to learn their native language.
(Know of other ways or places you can learn a new language? Share it with us in the comments.)
Change the language on your phone. Play games that teach you languages at the same time. You can do it on the bus ride home from class, or during breaks, or in bed before you sleep.
All it takes is a first step, but the benefits are huge.
Watch the full TED Talk from Professor McWhorter here:
We hope this has convinced you. Have you experienced any of these benefits personally when learning a new language? What languages do you know!
Comment and share below!