Teddy Roosevelt said in 1907:
“We have room for but one language in this country, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house.”
Roosevelt was in fact the last US President to be bilingual, despite the somewhat curious fact that the United States is one of the few countries in the world to have no official language.
But over a century on, with the emergence of high speed communications, globalization, and the dissolution of racial segregation, thankfully most people’s perspectives on multilingualism have shifted.
Today, speaking more than one language is something to be applauded, not ashamed of. According to Every Day Power Blog, it’s been proven that learning a language makes you smarter (not just sound smarter, but actually, really demonstrably more intelligent), with the ability to make better decisions and expand your horizons.
But if heightened intellectual capacity coupled with a rising change in the ethnicity of the US people, (with white Caucasians set to become a minority by 2040) aren’t motivators enough for you, then here are 7 more reasons why you need to add learning a language to your to-do list today.
1. We Can’t Keep Having a Monolingual President
The US’ days as the world’s number one superpower are numbered, but we still do have the biggest economy, arguably greatest global influence, most highly trained military, and internationally revered and adopted popular culture; from Universal Studios to Coca-Cola, the stars and stripes are everywhere.
So, don’t you feel just a little bit guilty that our President doesn’t even know any Spanish? Angela Merkel speaks at least three languages fluently. And so does Vladimir Putin. Heck, even North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un (who doesn’t get out that much) can make conversation in English and ask for Wiener schnitzel in German, besides his native Korean.
For more than 70 years now, the world’s most powerful leaders can’t understand a word of what’s being said about them outside of their home soil and it makes us look bad.
2. The USA Has No Official Language
Sorry if you’re still trying to digest that statement from before, but the fact is that the US has no official language at a Federal level. Politicians debated about it in Congress in 1770, but it was widely considered undemocratic to choose just one language over the many languages spoken by immigrants living in the US.
And while English (or rather, American English) is undisputedly the unofficial official language, seeing as there’s nothing legally set in writing, who’s to say that won’t change in the years ahead?
3. It Sucks Being at the Wrong End of a Joke
When people speak a language that you don’t, they automatically have the power to say things that you don’t understand, and that means that they can talk about you behind your back (or even to your face). They have the power to keep secrets, plot battles, laugh about and bully you on the playground, at the office, or in the tabloids. It sucks being the butt of a joke, and as the old chestnut goes:
“What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person who speaks one language? American.”
4. The Rest of the World is Smarter than US
At least the European Union. It’s estimated that most people speak at least three or four foreign languages, except for the British (but we all know their take on multiculturalism). They do get some brownie points for the excessively eloquent way with which they command their native tongue, making them sound smarter than us, even if they aren’t. But if you’re tired of being left out of the smart people’s club, then it’s time to start learning a language.
5. The Perfect Excuse to Take a Year Out
Ever felt jealous of your little sister for taking a sabbatical to teach English in South Korea, or your cousin’s cousin for studying a semester in Barcelona? Not only is working and living in different cultures the best way to learn a language, but it’s also the perfect excuse to take a timeout from your hectic life. So go ahead and lose yourself in a different corner of the world and party like it’s 1969, again under the guise of learning a language.
6. Learning a Language is Fun
Ask any TEFL teacher, backpacker, a polyglot, or language enthusiast and they’ll confirm that learning a language and soaking up new cultures is fun. You don’t have to have your nose in a book the whole time. Go out and try real gelato in Italy, get lost in the labyrinth of streets in Marrakesh and throw tomatoes with the best of them in Spain.
7. Because America is No Longer a Polyglot Boarding House
Sorry Teddy, but time’s moved on. We’re embracing new cultures now, not sending out a witch hunt (at least most of us are). Being a polyglot helps people to break down cultural borders, be more sympathetic towards different religious beliefs, and helps to understand how to better treat foreign migrants around the world. So learn a language, soak up a culture, and let’s embrace the demographic changes to come, while cracking a joke or two of our own.
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