As the leading powers of roughly the last three centuries, America and England oversaw much of the world’s journey from the Industrial Revolution to modern globalization. And one of the lasting legacies of that imprint has been cementing English as the world’s common language – even more so with the advent of the internet in the past three decades.
Modern English is the most studied language in the world. However, only 20% of the global population speaks English – and of that number, around 80% are non-native English speakers. Many of us know how hard it can be to learn a second language, yet for most people living in the rest of the world, the reality is that learning English is necessary to be competitive and access a lot of the information we take for granted today.
Despite the challenges, learning a second language can provide several advantages for anyone. Here’s why Asian languages are particularly worthy of consideration for native English speakers.
Nearly 1/3 of all the world’s languages originate in Asia. It is also by far the world’s most populous continent, accounting for 60% of the global population, with 36% in China and India combined. You can choose to learn one popular Asian language and immediately unlock communication with over a billion people. Or if you’d like a challenge, try to learn an endangered language and help in efforts to preserve such knowledge.
In today’s economy, competition for jobs is tougher than ever. Having an additional skill in your toolset is always a potential advantage, and a second language definitely counts as a skill. Your prospective employer or institution might choose you over a more experienced candidate for an assignment based on your additional language proficiency.
Depending on your industry, you could be earning more than the average because of your language skill – and you have the option of taking on lucrative jobs for teachers who speak both English and an Asian language, teaching important clients online or perhaps with the opportunity to travel. And speaking of travel, you can go to the appropriate exotic locale, such as Korea or Thailand, without fear of getting lost or misunderstood.
Asian languages can be intimidating because we associate them with thousands of indecipherable characters. But if you love learning, the reward of unlocking the written works of an entire culture can be well worth it. In any field, gaining access to expert knowledge that’s unavailable in English can be a big advantage.
Even if it’s only for entertainment, you can also read another culture’s great literary classics in the native tongue. As we’ve often heard, something gets lost in translation. Ever wonder if Japanese learning English are experiencing the same Jane Austen or Shakespeare that we all know? Now you can read the four great classic Chinese books without losing any of their essences.
Being bilingual has been shown to improve memory, multitasking, and decision-making. It also improves your ability to relate to different people and make connections with them. While these benefits apply regardless of what language you choose to learn, an Asian language opens up lines of communication with potentially millions or even billions of people from halfway around the world.
As Sinatra might have said, you make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. If you break the barrier and learn a language that’s truly worlds apart from English, you’ll know you’ve got a great store of mental toughness and flexibility inside. Maybe then you can learn yet another one?