“Why Do I Have to Learn This? I’m Never Going to Use It!”: The Argument for Second Language Acquisition

by multilingualmania on December 6, 2010

in bilingual parenting, Bilingualism

What frustrated student hasn’t turned to a teacher while stuck on a math problem or a difficult line of Shakespeare and cried, “Why do I have to learn this?  I’m never going to use it!”  I actually remember moaning something quite similar to my father about my high school Spanish class as I puzzled my way through the subjunctive, certain I’d never utter so much as an “Hola” after graduation.  Today I live and work in southern Mexico, where I speak more Spanish than English, which makes me pretty grateful for my seven years of foreign language classes, especially when I’m using the subjunctive.

Of course, not every foreign language student dreams of living abroad, so what do you tell a child who rolls their eyes at second language acquisition?  How exactly do you respond to those dreaded words, “Why do I have to learn this?  I’m never going to use it!” and motivate a student to take bilingualism seriously?  No te preocupes. (Don’t worry.) I have a few ideas:

“Learning a second language expands your social network.”

In other words, speaking a foreign language means you’ll make more friends!  Choose a language wisely and you will greatly multiply the amount of people you can meet and interact with in your daily life as well as when you’re on vacation.  My Spanish fluency hasn’t merely created opportunities for me to interact with people from Spanish-speaking companies.  I have laughed, debated, and philosophized in Spanish with people from France, Italy, Germany, Kenya, and Japan:  something I never could have done if I had stuck with my English-only attitude.  Basically, being bilingual makes you globally cool.

“Being bilingual increases your earning power.”

You might not be able to put advanced calculus on your resume, but you better believe your future employers want you to list foreign language skills.  The ability to speak a second language multiplies your career prospects and makes you a more attractive candidate for most positions, which means you’ll have your pick of more jobs with higher odds of getting the one you want.  And it might even land you a bigger paycheck.  In this economy, it’s almost as though you can’t afford not to be bilingual.

“Multilingual skills open doorways to exotic travel destinations.”

Do you dream of backpacking across Europe?  Want to climb a volcano in Latin America?  Foreign language skills pave the way for easier, more enjoyable travel experiences as well as the chance to explore off the beaten track.  Skip the tourist scene and be your own guide.  Take several months off and teach English, volunteer, or study abroad.  When you’re bilingual, you can choose your own adventure.

“Speaking more than one language keeps your mind sharp.”

Some people recommend doing crossword puzzles to keep your mind sharp as you grow older. Or you could talk to friends, listen to music, watch movies, cook, and read in your second language.  (I’ll take door #2!)  Maintaining bilingualism over a lifetime helps with memory, multi-tasking, and creative problem-solving.  It may even help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s. And as far as I’m concerned, it sure beats crossword puzzles.

I believe that Spanish prepared me for the world beyond the classroom more than any other class I took in high school.  Speaking a foreign language is a social skill, a job skill, and a life skill and one that I use every single day.  I certainly can’t say that about advanced calculus.  Can you?

About the Author: Rachael Kay Albers is a freelance writer, English teacher, and theater facilitator working to educate and empower indigenous women in Central America. In her spare time, she loves to maintain and improve her bilingualism by reading novels and watching movies in Spanish.

Related Articles:

Top Ten Tips for Raising Bilingual Children

Why Should My Child Learn a Second Language?

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