Who’s learning Spanish these days?
For starters, residents of the United States, a bunch not known for conquering monoligualism, are studying Spanish in record numbers. Spanish, too, is becoming of greater importance in Europe, where it often the foreign language of choice after English. And it’s no wonder that Spanish is a popular second or third language: with some 400 million speakers, it’s the fourth most commonly spoken language in the world (after English, Chinese and Hindustani), and according to some counts it has more native speakers than English does. It is an official language on four continents and is of historical importance elsewhere.’
The numbers alone makes Spanish a good choice for those wanting to learn another tongue. But there are plenty of other reasons to learn Spanish. Here are a few:
Better understanding of English: Much of the vocabulary of English has Latin origins, much of which came to English by way of French. Since Spanish is also a Latin language, you will find as you study Spanish that you have a better understanding of your native vocabulary. Similarly, both Spanish and English share Indo-European roots, so their grammars are similar. There is perhaps no more effective way to learn English grammar than by studying the grammar of another language, for the study forces you to think about how your language is structured. It’s not unusual, for example, to gain an understanding of English verbs’ tenses and moods by learning how those verbs are used in Spanish.
Knowing your neighbors: Not all that many years ago, the Spanish-speaking population of the United States was confined to the Mexican border states, Florida and New York City. But no more, there may be Spanish-speaking people living on the same street as you do. Knowing Spanish has proven invaluable in speaking with other residents of any town who don’t know English.
Travel: Yes, it is perfectly possible to visit Spain or any other Spanish speaking country without speaking a word of Spanish. But it isn’t nearly half as much fun.
Cultural understanding: While most of us can’t hope to learn the languages of more than one or two cultures other than that of our own, those that we can learn help us to learn how other people learn and think. When you read Latin American or Spanish newspapers, for example, you often find that you gain a sense of how other people think and feel. Spanish also offers a wealth of literature, both modern and traditional.
Learning other languages: If you can learn Spanish, you’ll have a head start in learning the other Latin-based languages such as French and Italian. And it will even help you learn Russian and German, since they too have Indo-European roots and have some characteristics (such as gender and extensive conjugation) that are present in Spanish but not English. And I wouldn’t be surprised if learning Spanish might even help you learn Japanese or any other non-Indo-European language, since intensive learning the structure of a language can give you a reference point for learning others.
It’s easy: Spanish is one of the easiest foreign languages to learn. Much of its vocabulary is similar to English’s, and written Spanish is almost completely phonetic: Look at almost any Spanish word and you can tell how it is pronounced. And while mastering the grammar of Spanish can be a challenge, basic grammar is straightforward enough that you can have meaningful communication after only a few Spanish lessons.
Employment opportunities: If you’re in the United States and work in one of the helping professions including medicine and education, you’ll find your opportunities expand by knowing Spanish. And wherever you live, if you’re in any occupation that involves international trade, communications or tourism, you’ll similarly find opportunities to use your new language skills.
It’s fun: Whether you enjoy talking, reading, or mastering challenges, you’ll find all of them in learning Spanish. For many people, there’s something inherently enjoyable about successfully speaking in another tongue. Perhaps that’s one reason children sometimes speak in Pig Latin or device secret codes of their own. Although learning a language can be work, the efforts pay off quickly when you finally get to use your skills.
For many people, Spanish offers the most rewards with the least effort of any foreign language. It’s never too late to begin learning.
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