Contrary to popular belief, learning a foreign language is not simply about being able to speak it. It is about understanding and experiencing another culture and society, and, through this, broadening your own perspectives and outlook on the world.
Many prospective language learners greatly underestimate what it means to be culturally aware. No matter how familiar you may be with your native culture, you cannot be fully worldly aware unless you have an understanding of other cultures on the globe, no matter how insignificant the country, and what it may have to add to global society as a whole. A nation’s words are one of the most telling representations of its society; for example, coming across a word in a foreign language which has no direct translation into English reveals an entirely new series of meanings, exposing what is considered important to speakers of that language.
Learning a language creates empathy in the student, who begins from scratch to learn an entirely distinct sound set; the learner must listen incredibly carefully to pronunciation and verbal cues, and in doing so becomes a far better listener, often developing greater patience with others. This all amounts to better communication skills, together with the opening up of communication pathways between learners and those fluent in the culture and language. A bond is developed between the culture and the learner, who feels welcomed into other cultures and at liberty to explore them.
However, cultural awareness stretches still deeper than this. In becoming familiar with an entirely new culture, the learner explores what it means to be a part of a distinctive culture, to speak the language, and even what it means to be themselves.
In today’s increasingly globalised society, awareness of global affairs has become crucial. In order for businesses to maximise potential, they must be aware of not only the state of the market in foreign countries, but also understand the deeper culture of nations in order to help predict how the market will change in the near future. Negotiations between different countries require some sort of bond, and cross cultural awareness should help in achieving just that; an understanding of the specific attitudes, approaches and decision making styles of someone from another culture will doubtless make discussions so much simpler and more successful.
As a result, many jobs and careers on offer have a multicultural or international aspect to them, and many of the new openings becoming available are in this sector. As a result, one way in which learning a foreign language is beneficial is that you will almost certainly have many more job opportunities available to you; it may even be what stands between you and a promotion.
Although various cultural awareness training programmes are readily available, learning a foreign language is truly the best way in which to gain this skill. Through an understanding of the language, you can really immerse yourself in the culture and experience so much more than you would if simply exploring the culture in English. Competence in the appropriate language allows you to read and listen to indigenous texts and really connect with native speakers, who are the best indication as to what the culture really is about.
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