to learn or not to learn?


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Learning and teaching foreign languages are the key components of the language policy of a country which set a course towards the development of bi/multilingual generation. However, there are still some controversial disputes on the true need for learning languages. In this regard, the episode of the radio podcast “Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It?” mainly discusses the psychological and economical ROI (Return on Investment), which in a plain language means the word “benefit”, of the foreign language learning by providing quite interesting arguments with no less interesting reasons and evidences to support them.

Interestingly, from a psychological perspective, learning foreign languages changes the way the human brain works.  According to psychology professor, Boaz Keysar, the more languages you know, the more likely you will act differently. In this sense, he states that a foreign language directly impacts your decision-making process. For instance, the findings of his research show that when people think in a foreign language, they become more willing to take risks, more reflective and less emotional on their choices. Personally, I am quite skeptical on this issue, since I do not believe that there is a “magic” link between foreign languages and the human brain. It sounds to me as inane as the “Critical Period” theory, according to which a child cannot get a full command of a language unless he/she starts to learn it until a particular period, because after that his/her brain allegedly loses its flexibility.

As for the economical prospect, the ROI varies from country to country primarily depending on their L1. For example, the research conducted by MIT economist, Albert Saiz, found out that the learning foreign languages in the US is not so financially attractive as it is in non-English speaking countries: approximately 2% and 10% premium per year, respectively. Hence, Bryan Caplan, economist at George Mason University, claims that learning a foreign language is not reasonable and worthy unless people can benefit from it. Besides these economists, the responses of children on the need for learning foreign languages mainly reflect the same idea: financial benefits. Thus, the link between economics and learning foreign languages seems more realistic and worthy than the psychological one. Are you of the same view?



4 thoughts on “to learn or not to learn?

  1. @makha09 thank you for your post
    you know what? Ask the government and my parents, because learning different languages wasn’t my decision). I’m pretty sure that you are not the only person who is sceptical about psychological benefits of being bi/multilingual and I’m of the same point regarding the economical benefits of knowing more than one language. I just wonder why governments make foreign language classes mandatory and force their citizens to learn those languages. Don’t they really think that by that way they make some children suffer, because not every person is able to learn the languages easily. In fact, failure in mastering other languages can affect their confidence and how their further life goes. If there is a need for knowing other languages for whatever purposes a person would master it. In this case, wouldn’t it be better if students may make their own decisions whether to learn or not a second language. What do you think?


    1. @uaxi, thank you for your honest comment!
      Personally, despite of the “cruelty” (forcing children to learn foreign languages), I deem that it is vindicable action due to the need for the development of a country to increase its competitiveness and to comply with high international standards. Also I am not quite sure that I would be as proficient as I am now in English, if I weren’t forced to learn it.:) Thus, sometimes coercion is the most appropriate way of achieving unexpected favorable outcomes.


  2. Nice response, Makha. Your post is full of careful, honest summaries of and reflections to the episode you chose. I found your writing crystal clear, easy to follow, and insightful. I hope you enjoyed a listening assignment instead of more reading! (5/5)


  3. Dear @makha09,

    Thanks for this interesting post where everyone can share his or her experience on learning languages. I had an interest to learn English since 8th grade. That was true desire to master a foreign language. However, I can not say that I fully mastered it. But after learning it, I started to realize the benefit of learning a foreign language in terms of a bright future. Here, I would like to refer to economic aspect(financial) that was mentioned in your post. I think nowadays people do learn languages due to financial benefits.

    Thank you!


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