, Research Paper
You Should Learn to Speak Spanish!
If you want to get on in today’s modern world, using just English is not enough anymore. It really pays to learn at least one more language, but what language should you choose to learn? For Americans, the obvious choice is Spanish, the next most widely spoken language in the United States (Elgin, 2000, p. 34).
Thanks in part to the proximity of Mexico and immigration from Latin America, Spanish is America’s most popular second language, and is the third most spoken language in the world after Chinese and English (Crystal, 1987, p. 287). Those reasons alone make Spanish — especially for Americans — a good choice for those wanting to learn another tongue. By learning Spanish, you can communicate with another half billion people (Crystal, 1997, p.287). There are plenty of other reasons to learn Spanish, such as: better cultural understanding, better employment opportunities, and increased mental capacity.
In a world that is getting smaller by the day, individuals are having experiences with second languages without even leaving town. Non-English speakers are now in our communities buying toothpaste, eating hamburgers, and working right alongside us at our businesses. The Internet is opening up access to the native speakers of countries around the world. People are already making friends and learning about culture around the globe through e-mail, chat rooms, and discussion groups. Air travel carries more and more passengers each year, bringing speakers of other languages to us and taking us to them. The need for foreign language skills to better understand the culture of the people with whom we work increases daily.
While “most of us cannot hope to learn the languages of more than one or two other cultures” (Huebener, 1966, p. 119), those languages we can learn will help us to better know how other cultures feel and think. If you were to read a Latin American or Spanish newspaper, for example, you will find that you gain a sense of how other people think and feel in a way that is different from your own thoughts and feelings. Learning to speak Spanish “helps the individual to value cultural differences, making him a more effective person and a more insightful citizen” (Elgin, 2000, p. 122). In addition to understanding other cultures, learning Spanish will also help you to better understand English.
“Much of the English vocabulary has Latin origins” (Crystal, 1987, p. 292). Since Spanish is also a Latin language (Crystal, 1987, p. 292), you will find as you study Spanish that you have a better understanding of English. Similarly, “both Spanish and English share Indo-European roots, so their grammars are similar” (Crystal, 1987, p. 293). There is perhaps no better way to reinforce English grammar than by studying the grammar of another language, for the study forces you to think about how your language is structured. It is not unusual, for example, to gain an understanding of English verb tenses and moods by learning how those verbs are used in Spanish. Because of your increased cultural understanding, learning to speak Spanish will also make you a more valuable employee.
More and more employers are looking for employees that have second language skills. “There is an increasing customer base in the U.S. of non-English speakers; an increasing number of companies are doing business internationally and need employees that not only can speak the foreign country’s language but that also understand their culture” (Elgin, 2000, p. 103). If you work in one of the helping professions such as medicine or education, you will find your opportunities expand exponentially by knowing Spanish. Wherever you live, if you are in “any occupation that involves international trade, communications or tourism, you will find opportunities to use your language skills” (Elgin, 2000, p. 110). In 1961, a study of the want ads in the New York Times resulted in a compilation of 608 jobs requiring foreign language skills, and nearly two-thirds of those requests were for Spanish alone (Huebener, 1966, p. 64). The Spanish-speaking population of the United States has more than tripled in the four decades since 1961 (Eglin, 2000, p. 22), so we can imagine the multitude of possibilities today that would be open to professionals with Spanish speaking skills. You will not only find more opportunities to use Spanish in your business environment, but your employer will actually seek you out to be the main contact in business communication with your Spanish-speaking clients. Your ability to speak Spanish will make you “more valuable as an employee, increasing your potential to gain pay raises and promotions” offered by your employer (Elgin, 2000, 108). In addition to more job opportunities and higher paying employment, learning to speak Spanish can also increase your mental capabilities.
Research shows that learning a foreign language actually enhances overall mental development. In an article in Child Magazine, Dr. Charles Trevor reviewed a study of 13,200 third- through fifth-graders attending public schools in Louisiana. The study was revealing: it demonstrated that regardless of race, gender, or academic level, kids taking foreign language classes did better on the Louisiana Basic Skills Tests than students who were not studying a foreign language (Trevor, 1999). Some evidence also suggests that individuals who receive second language instruction are more creative and better at solving complex problems, regardless of their age (Trevor, 1999).
Americans who only speak English are selling themselves short. In today’s multicultural world, people are making themselves more marketable and more available to others by learning to speak another language. In America, the best choice of which foreign language to learn is Spanish. By developing the ability to communicate with over half a billion people in the world, people who learn to speak Spanish will have access to a greater a number of career possibilities, develop a deeper understanding of their own and other cultures, and increase their overall mental capabilities.
Crystal, D. (1997). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Elgin, S. H. (2000). The Language Imperative: How Learning Languages Can Enrich Your Life and Expand Your Mind. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.
Huebener, T. (1966). Why Johnny Should Learn Foreign Languages. Philadelphia: Chilton Company.
Trevor, C. (1999, February). How a Second Language Boosts Academic Success. Child. 24-25.