Is Language Learning Worth It? (We Find Out)


Many people dream of learning a new language, but very few follow through with a commitment. Some people never even begin, while others learn just a few phrases before wondering, “is language learning worth it?”

Language learning is absolutely worth it, as there are many advantages and benefits that come with learning another language. From improving memory and brain function to increasing your career opportunities and personal experiences, the value of language learning is limitless.

Some people think language learning is a waste of time. However, if you’ve been considering learning a new language, you might be convinced once we explain the benefits of doing so.

Benefits of Learning a New Language

With all of the resources available today, and with all the free and accessible options for language learning, there’s never been a better time to learn a new language! And though many outside of the United States are multilingual, just like this t-shirt found on Amazon says, it’s almost a superpower here in the US!

If you’ve been toying with the idea for a while, here are some of the biggest benefits and advantages that might convince you to learn a second language. 

Benefit to Learning Today: Wide Availability of Resources

In the past, learning a second language was nearly impossible unless you were a student or willing to shell out hundreds (maybe even thousands) of dollars on expensive learning materials! However, the rise of the internet over the past two decades has brought about a several  reasonably-priced (and some free!) resources that will help you learn a new language. 

You can find the resources online to learn pretty much any language out there. Whether you want to learn something as widespread as Spanish or you’re interested in something more niche, you’re all but guaranteed to find a way to do so online.

A major advantage of learning languages online is that many of the resources you can find are free. For those who want to learn a language but don’t have the money to take a language course or buy textbooks, online language classes are cheap and convenient. 

More Professional Opportunities from Language Learning

Learning a foreign language is worth it because it offers up jobs that you never would have had the opportunity to think about before. 

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, approximately 20% of primary and secondary students in the United States have had experience learning a foreign language, whether in school or otherwise. When you compare this number to the European median of 92%, it’s obvious that the American education system simply does not place the same level of emphasis on language learning as other countries do!

Because so few students coming out of the American education system possess knowledge of a second language, people who know one have a huge professional advantage. According to the University of the People, as large companies become more global, the demand for bilingual and multilingual applicants is at an all-time high.

This means people who know a second language have a higher chance of getting hired than those who only know one.

In addition, knowing a second language can even help you make more money! Fluency of a second language adds an average of 2% to your annual salary, depending on which language you learn. For the most lucrative career opportunities, consider the countries your company does business in, and tailor your language learning choice to this. 

Here are some of the jobs that open up to a person with multiple language fluency:  

Independent:

  • Translation: Translators are needed for a variety of different reasons, from transcribing literature to helping people who aren’t bilingual process government paperwork in a language they don’t understand.
  • Tutoring: For a person who becomes proficient in a second language or more, tutoring can open up lots of opportunities for using the language as a part of your career. With the advance of online tutoring, foreign language tutors are able to teach a foreign language without ever leaving the comfort of their homes.
  • Tour Guide: If you’ve ever wanted to live in a foreign country as an expatriate, taking up a job as a tour guide is a great way to get paid while you’re living abroad. Tourism-heavy countries are always looking for foreign tour guides that can give tours in languages from around the world. 

Governmental:

  • US Department of State: There are many jobs that require foreign language fluency that are available with this US government agency. From Foreign Service Officers to Consular Fellows, these jobs are well paid governmental positions that offer great benefits and ample chances to travel.
  • CIA and FBI: From analysts to field agents, command of a second or even a third language can not only help land a job, it could also be the catalyst that propels someone through the ranks to higher positions. In these fields, becoming an asset because of your usable skill sets is foundational.

International Business:

According to Northeastern University, these are some of the most in demand jobs in international business. A firm grasp of a foreign language could make or break your chances in many of these fields.

  1. Management Analyst
  2. Marketing Manager
  3. Executive
  4. Human Resources Manager
  5. Financial Analyst
  6. Economist
  7. Policy Analyst


This is just the tip of the iceberg when looking at the job opportunities and travel associated with learning another language. These jobs are not only well-paid and fun, they also open up the chance for people to travel abroad and use their chosen secondary language in its country of origin.

Improve Your Memory and Brain Function with Language Learning

Learning a new language isn’t just a smart career and social move. You might be surprised to learn it is also believed to improve your memory and increase certain brain functions! Knowledge of another language can:

  • Make you a better multitasker
  • Improve your ability to make more rational, well thought-out decisions
  • Delay the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, Alzheimer’s and dementia patients who are bilingual and multilingual may experience a delayed disease progression of about 4.5 years on average compared to those who only speak one language. 

This is thought to be due to the greater cognitive reserve of those who speak more than one language, which may mean that their brains are predisposed to being more resilient to the damage caused by these types of diseases. 

The fact that learning a foreign language positively affects problem-solving and decision-making skills also means it helps adults feel more in control of their lives and senior citizens remain more independent. 

Traveling is Easier and More Satisfying with Language Learning

Language learning is worth it when it comes to travel! As mentioned above, many people in the United States are under the false impression that “everyone” knows English and that they can freely travel to other countries across the globe without ever learning the local languages. 

This approach may work for you if you’re traveling to certain areas in Northwest Europe, but not so much if you’re visiting:

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Eastern Europe

These countries tend to not be very easy to navigate without at least a basic understanding of the native language. Without that knowledge, it is much easier for travelers to get lost or taken advantage of. Knowing the language of the people around you helps you relax as a traveler and immerse yourself in the cultures you’re visiting. 

Even if you are traveling somewhere where most people have a decent handle on the English language, learning the local language can improve your experience. Knowing how to fully read things like street signs, menus, and cultural works make for a much more meaningful trip. This way, you can:

  • Really absorb the culture
  • Have discussions with locals
  • Confidently step outside the tourist areas
  • Use mass transit with ease

While it’s possible to visit a foreign country without speaking the native language, a visitor who is stuck behind the language barrier won’t be able to get as much enjoyment out of their international experiences as they would if they could understand what people were saying around them. 

Achieve a Deeper Understanding of Cultural Works

Major cultural events such as The Renaissance, which took place mainly in Europe, brought about a ton of artistic pieces and written works that are still very relevant and highly discussed today. Italy is well known as one of the most influential places of the Renaissance time period; meaning many works from this time are written and described in the Italian language. 

During their stays abroad, most people rely on translations and guided tours while viewing works written in another language. However, some of these translations may not be complete, and it can be tedious to wait on someone else’s description before moving on to the next piece.

In order to fully understand and appreciate the culture, knowing the native language of the country you visit is incredibly important. 

In current events, knowing a foreign language allows you to read newspapers from all over the wrold. While online translators can translate these newspapers into your primary language, the translators are often poor and miss context that you would catch if you were reading them in their original text. 

In a world that is increasingly defined by polarized political views and misinformation, having access to foreign language newspapers across the world is a serious advantage. Reading from multiple sources allows you to see past the propaganda and media bias present in your own country’s newspapers and media outlets. 

Is Learning a Language a Waste of Time?

There are a couple of arguments against learning a second language. Most people, especially in the United States, get through life just fine, only knowing one language. More people than not are under the impression that most of the people they’ll meet in other countries speak English, and if they ever encounter someone who doesn’t, they believe they can get by with the help of interpreters and online translation services!

Admittedly, these are some pretty good arguments against learning a new language, and they definitely hold up in theory. For casual travel, an online translation service or an interpreter will probably be enough to scrape by. And for people who plan to go to a foreign country once and never again in their life, they may not be willing to put in the time it takes to learn the language. 

However, there are far more reasons to learn a new language than there are to not learn a new language. Overall, becoming fluent in a language in addition to your native language affords you numerous professional, mental, and social benefits. If you have the motivation to do it, there’s really no drawback.

Foreign language is also one of the few hobbies in the world that can be undertaken either very cheaply or for free. In the interests of saving money, choosing to learn a foreign language over any hobby that costs you money is worth the time invested alone. 

Choosing Which Language to Learn

Once you’ve decided to learn a new language, you’ll need to pick which one! Learning any language is beneficial, but there are some that are definitely more useful than others. You probably already have a couple of options in mind, so ask yourself a couple of questions while you consider:

  • How many people speak the language you’re considering learning? (I’ve addressed this topic here if you’d like to learn more.)
  • Is this a language that would be useful to know both at home and abroad?
  • Do you ever plan on traveling to the region this language is native to?
  • How useful would it be to learn this language?
  • How often will you use it?

While it is important to learn something practical, this is by no means the only thing to consider when choosing a second language! Learning any language is much more enjoyable when you’re genuinely interested in what you’re doing and aren’t just learning for the sake of knowing another language. Again, motivation to learn is what leads to language learning success. To read more about motivation effects on language learning, I’ve written about it extensively here.

The Best and Most Useful Languages to Learn

Apart from English, the most widely used languages are French and Spanish. These three languages are spoken on all continents, so no matter where you go, you’re likely to find people who speak one of them. While Spanish and French are both beneficial to learn, they’re not the only languages worth considering! Below, you’ll find what we think are the best languages to learn.

German

German is the most widely spoken language in Europe, and according to the University of the People, the continent’s most dominant economic power.

If you ever plan on traveling to Europe, German is a very useful language to know. It’s also surprisingly easy to learn, meaning you won’t have to deal with much frustration throughout your lessons.

Arabic

Arabic is the official language of the Arab League, which consists of over 400 million residents and includes:

  • Egypt
  • Morocco
  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE)

It’s also the official language of the Muslim civilization, which includes 1.8 billion people worldwide! Needless to say, these numbers alone make Arabic a very useful language to know if you’re interested in Muslim culture.

Spanish

Spanish is one of the most well-known second languages. Many American children are required to take at least some level of introductory Spanish in school.

This is mainly because there is a huge number of Spanish speakers in the United States. There are many people who speak Spanish as either their native language or second language, making it a language worth considering.

French

Like Spanish, French is a widely used and well-known language. It’s one of the “romance languages,” along with Spanish and Italian, meaning it’s easy to learn if you already have a background in either of those languages.

Furthermore, France is a very popular tourist destination and site of many historical events and texts. Learning French can greatly increase your appreciation and comprehension of French culture.

Mandarin Chinese

As China emerges as a global superpower, the importance of learning to speak and understand Mandarin is at an all-time high. Over 1 billion people worldwide speak Mandarin Chinese, and although most of them live in China, many companies are moving part of their operations to this country.

If you’re trying to climb the ranks at a global company, especially one that deals with China, you’ll have a huge advantage after learning Mandarin.

Japanese

Although Japanese isn’t spoken much outside of Japan, there is a growing number of people who really enjoy and appreciate Japanese culture. Many people dream of visiting Japan, and knowing Japanese is essentially a prerequisite to making this trip.

Japanese is one of the easiest Asian languages to learn, and a basic understanding of this language can help you learn languages like Mandarin and Korean much easier.

Italian

Like France, Italy is a cultural hotspot. Many Renaissance works originated in Italy and are written in Italian, so a good grip on the Italian language is essential to a fulfilling trip to Italy.

Even if understanding cultural works isn’t of huge importance to you, Italy is still a very popular tourist destination. You’ll have a better experience if you know the language well.

Portuguese

Portuguese is the official language in many different countries across the world, in continents including:

  • South America
  • Europe
  • Africa
  • Asia

However, the importance of learning Portuguese can really be seen when you consider Brazil. As one of the fastest emerging economic powerhouses in the world, professionals who speak Portuguese are in high demand across the globe. 

Final Talking Point on is Language Learning Worth It?

Although it may seem like a huge undertaking and can be very tedious at times, learning a new language is absolutely worth it in the end. Adding a second language to your repertoire comes with many advantages, including:

  • More professional and career opportunities
  • Better brain and memory function
  • An easier, more satisfying time abroad
  • A deeper understanding of foreign cultural works

There are many different and inexpensive ways to learn a new language. All you need to figure out is which language and what methods are best for you!

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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