Once upon a time learning a foreign language was seen as a hobby. It was something you did to enhance your own repertoire of languages but not a skill that had too many practical applications for most people. With the advent of a globalized economy, though, things have changed a lot. Today, learning a foreign language can increase your cachet immensely depending upon the language you learn and the field you’re planning to build your career in.
It is not surprising, therefore, that more and more companies are looking for employees who are skilled in languages apart from English and their mother tongue. Most Indians have the advantage of being at least bilingual (knowledge of their mother tongue and English). Some are even trilingual. However, if you add a foreign language to your skillset, you open a lot of doors for yourself that might have been closed earlier.
Reasons to learn a foreign language
From a purely practical perspective, the best reason to learn a foreign language is so that you can increase your chances at bagging lucrative and satisfying employment prospects that come your way. It can also help you improve your academic chances when it comes to educations abroad. As an example, take Germany. Most students who want to pursue higher education in Germany need to achieve a certain level of competence in the language and they must have certificates to prove they have done so. Once there, this competence only helps them further, because most people in Germany do not speak English and getting by without at least adequate knowledge of the German language is very difficult.
Another reason you can learn one or more foreign languages is to widen your world view. When you study a foreign language, not only do you pick up pronunciation and grammar, you also learn more about the history of that language.
What languages should you learn?
Well, that really depends on what you plan to do with that language. As I mentioned earlier, if you’re planning to study or work in a country such as Germany, you will need to know German. Decide why you want to learn a foreign language. Also do some research about a) what languages will be easier for you to start off with (Spanish and then French) and b) what languages are in demand now in the field you’re considering. You don’t have to go haring off to learn Japanese just because you’ve heard that it is the language to learn.
Spanish is the best language to start off with, not only because of its similarity to English in terms of syntax but also because it is one of the major languages spoken across the U.S. and many other countries, especially in Central and South America. In India, at the moment, there is quite a huge demand for people proficient in this language especially in IT hubs such as Bangalore, Gurgaon, Noida and Pune.
French is the most popular foreign language in India. Many Indians take up French as a foreign language. In fact, French is even offered as a second language option from the ninth standard onwards. The advantages this language offers to you are enormous. Around the world, French is the second highest learnt foreign language. You will find it particularly helpful if you are traveling through Europe. It is also easier to learn because most of its syntax is quite similar to English.
German is next in this reckoning but by a large margin. There aren’t many people enthused about learning German unless they’re planning to study or work in Germany.
There is a huge demand for people proficient in Chinese and Japanese as well. But you need to remember that these two languages are very different from anything you’ve learnt so far and will require a lot of study and hard work before you are anywhere near competent at them.