Guest post by Kelly Doscher
I went back to school when I was thirty-two years old—finally realizing that I really couldn’t go through my professional life without a degree. Much to the chagrin and bewilderment of my family and friends, I decided to pursue a degree in French language and French literature. Except for a choice few friends and colleagues, the overarching question I got—especially from my CPA father—was, “What are you going to do with a French degree?”
To be perfectly honest, I had no plans. It just felt right. I did it for the love of the little bit of French that I’d experienced in high school and in books that I’d read. But what I didn’t expect was that I’d learn a lot more than strictly the language.
1. Better English
An unexpected byproduct of learning another language was that my English grammar got a major boost! Through the practice of conjugating verbs and figuring out sentence structures in my new language, I was reacquainted with the articles of speech that I had learned in my days of primary school.
2. The culture of the French people
French is of course spoken around the world, but as an American learning French, the focus of my university studies was on the dialect and culture of France. From baguettes to berets, children’s stories, classic songs, and historical literature, I couldn’t help but be immersed in the history and customs of the culture—which I learned to love even more as I progressed.
When you learn about another culture on a more intimate level, the way one does when learning a new language, you gain an appreciation for the differences imbued in the language as a result of the fundamental culture and history of the people who speak it. This appreciation, in my experience, has given me the ability to accept differences in individuals, communities, and peoples.
I’m not saying I’ve become an ever-patient saint since I’ve learned to speak French, but I certainly have a much deeper well of welcoming and understanding for people and their perspectives.
Speaking of perspectives, I think one of the most surprising things I learned as a result of my French studies was that I gained a perspective that I don’t think I would have otherwise. Because of my exposure to another culture, its differences compared to mine, and the resulting intricacies that show up in its language, I tend to step back and consider situations more holistically than I used to. So much so that I wasn’t surprised to learn that recent studies have shown that bilinguals make better decisions when it comes to moral and financial dilemmas.
Next time you ask yourself, “Why learn a new language?” keep in mind all the personal benefits—not to mention potential professional ones—that will come as a result of your studies. I know that for myself, and I’m sure for you, too, the benefits of learning a language far outweigh not having the experience under my belt.