I clearly remember the day I went to Lausanne for the first time. Lausanne is a picturesque town on the shores of Lake Geneva in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, an area which is commonly referred to as “La Romandie”. I entered one of Lausanne’s many charming “boulangeries” (bakeries) and wanted to order a chocolate croissant, but I quickly realized that the lady behind the cashier could barely speak German — and that my French, honestly speaking, was close to zero.
I was only seven years old, just about to enter primary school in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Yet, the bakery experience in Lausanne had a profound impact on me. It was the first time I realized that there are people in this world speaking languages different from mine and that the only way I can communicate with them was to master other languages. From that day on, I was determined to study hard for French in school.
Upon graduation, I was close to being perfectly fluent in French. I had friends in “La Romandie”, I frequently traveled there for leisure and wine tasting, and I was able to communicate with nearly everyone about nearly every topic. I felt a great sense of achievement, sophistication, and pride.
Today, I am fluent in German, English, and French, and I am learning Chinese and Korean. Language learning has become a hobby for me; a hobby that has enabled me to travel all around the world, find friends on every continent and study in the US, South Korea, and China.
Admittedly, by any means, I am not the only one. There are millions of people nowadays that invest considerable time (and money) to broaden their horizon and master a foreign language. So, the question arises: why would they make all these efforts?
Personally, I believe there are three major reasons why many people delve into the extremely rewarding, yet sometimes painful process of language learning.
First of all, they are curious and want to gain a new perspective on life and culture. Mastering a foreign language opens up a whole new world of communicating with people from different backgrounds and with different ideas and ways of life. Learning about their attitude and culture can have a profound impact on your own thinking and behavior, making you change long-engrained views and beliefs. To many — myself included — this whole adaptation process feels extremely rewarding and enriching.
Secondly, many foreign language learners may just be motivated by the career and business opportunities that arise when you speak several languages. The workplace is becoming ever more globalized, with an increasingly strong focus on teamwork and international collaboration. This trend is supported by recent research arguing that diverse teams — consisting of people of various cultural backgrounds, skin color, age, norms, and values — perform significantly better than homogenous teams lacking any diversity. Consequently, being able to speak several languages can be an essential skill when interacting and managing in similarly diverse settings.
Finally, I strongly believe that many people simply learn foreign languages for fun. Mobile apps have made it more and more entertaining to learn vocabulary and phrases — no matter if you are on your daily commute, in your lunch break, at home or on the beach. Overall, more and more people are discovering language learning as a fulfilling hobby that they would not want to miss anymore.