Why learn another language?

January 31, 2012, 04:06 AM posted in General Discussion

I liked it that Larry Summers came down on the side of not bothering to learn another language.  I suspect that everyone on this site would have come down on the side of learning another language as being a necessity, but it's nice to hear an argument to the contrary. 


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January 31, 2012, 05:25 AM

When my Chinese colleagues learned that I was studying Chinese, one common reaction was to ask why?  The attitude behind the question seemed to be that I already had an advantage because I speak English.  In truth my time might be more profitably spent on honing my skills in my own profession, but I enjoy having a peek into a different culture.

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January 31, 2012, 06:33 AM

I wouldn't argue that the investment in a foreign language wouldn't necessarily be better spent doing something else. The time required top master a language is considerable. However, life isn't just a giant cost-benefit analysis. If you are interested in a culture, learning the language is the most thorough gateway into that culture. If you're into 6D binomial fractal math and hate languages, then dump langauges and go for that.

The important thing is to never stop learning, and the best way to do that is to love what you learn. In that sense Summers is right; rigid undergrad requirements that require a second language regardless of major don't make much sense.

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January 31, 2012, 06:52 AM

I often think about how much time I've put into learning Chinese since 2001, now even having a Master's in Chinese, and yet still find sentences in the Newspaper I don't understand...yes, it has been time consuming and money consuming, but still I wouldn't trade the last 10 years for anything... it has been a crazy ride that now has me living in Shanghai...sure, I can get along with English, but I love the Chinese language.

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January 31, 2012, 07:36 AM

I think learning other languages is important for survival of humanity - how you design incentives for this to happen is a challenge.