Benefits of learning a foreign language

15 July, 2011

Sometimes, I think the world is becoming a sad place when people start doing things purely for the sake of practical / economic benefits. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong in considering such stuff and being practical is working smart too.But it’s just.. very sad when the first question people ask me when they find out that I’m very passionate about learning Korean is:

Oh. Learn Korean very useful meh? You want to work in Korea ah?

haha it’s written in a very Singaporean way of speaking (for those who are a little confused). Most of the time I’ll get a weird stare and people will start commenting that I’m probably kpop obsessed. And for those who later get to know the amount of time and effort I spent on Korean, they will comment that I’m just wasting my time.

I’ve seen many youths whose first question in a university fair is ‘What kind of employment opportunities I’ll get if I major in xxx?’. That’s an important question, but does it really have to be the first question you ask? Oh, if you assume that they have already done their basic research about details of the coursework, you are wrong. These are questions that start popping out once they get a satisfactory answer on the employability of the graduates.

Well, of course that’s not the only reactions I get. I know people who are genuinely interested in what I’m doing or at least feel that it’s a cool and viable interest / hobby. These people tend to be of the more broad-minded kind, with overseas exposure and generally have a more ‘globalised worldview’. Urm, okay I sound like I’m criticizing and stereotyping general Singaporeans but this is the sad truth around me. And I’m not talking about the education level of the people. So many of my undergraduate friends think that focusing/seriously learning a foreign language is a waste of time when we already know English, the global lingua franca. To them, foreign language classes are just classes to earn credits from and perhaps alright if you take weekly lessons, but not something that you will dedicate your time to.

After all these years, I can’t help but mentally group people I know into 2 main groups:

1. people who understand / keep an open mind about my interests and life

2. people who starts giving weird stare / narrow-minded comments / criticisms

I’ve met my fair share of people type #2.

SO… The important question:

What are the benefits of putting serious effort in learning a foreign language?

1. It opens up an entirely new worldview

It’s one of the greatest joy of learning a new language. It comes packaged with a new way of looking at life, people and a new culture. And I find that very very fascinating.I have access to a brand new slew of entertainment/reading materials etc and basically a new world of knowledge.

I shall not elaborate, but I’m suddenly inspired to write something about how ‘Korean’ I’ve turned throughout these 3.5 years without spending extended time in Korea. Should be interesting (:

2. New Friends and people with the same interests

New friends – Korean friends, language learners, kpop friends etc. And the best part? We share similar interests ^^I feel closer to alot of these friends that some of the real-life acquaintances I know.

Come of think of it, I never expect to reap any benefits when I first started learning Korean. It is something of pure interest, although I admit that right at the very very beginning, I signed up for classes because I had alot of free time and I want to learn a foreign language. But never once have I thought about the economic benefits or wadever that I can possibly gain through learning Korean. And that certainly wasn’t / isn’t and will not be my goal in learning Korean.

For all the practical people out there, knowing a foreign language helps ALOT too. I’m sure your business partner will feel closer to you if you speak their native language and understand their way of working and their mindsets. And perhaps you will be sent on business trips or even secondment if you are already fluent in that language.

But if you are one of those very very very practical people who scoff at learning languages, you probably won’t be reading this anyway.

p.s. I think I’ve touched on this issue several times but I can’t help writing about it again. For those who clicked on the post expecting to see a slew of benefits of learning foreign languages, I’m sorry I digressed alittle. xD There are many joys / benefits of taking up a language, and it’s something that is indescribable and something that you should discover for yourself.

For those who have encountered similar ‘un-understanding’ people, don’t be discourage and pursue your interest! Be it in foreign languages or something else. There are loads of others out there who will share your passion or at least be interested to know more about your world (yours truly included!). For those who are learning Korean, there’s a bunch of us here!! ^^ And we will love to make new friends

    1. Great and inspirational post! 🙂
      I feel that anyway, people who get into a language for job opportunities or other “practical” reasons never beat those who put their soul into one for the sake of understanding it. Passion works miracles! And studying with and looking forward to cool materials in that language is much more motivating and immediate than possible employment in a distant future.
      I got into Korean strictly to… understand Korean. ^^ In my career field it probably won’t be very useful anyway, if useful at all, but in terms of personal enrichment I certainly don’t regret putting hours and hours into this project, and still doing so! 🙂

      1. Thanks Jeanne! ^^ I’m glad that I know you all (: I try not to let those comments get at me, but sometimes it hurt a little when people you are close to say that.

    1. I’m a white NZ boy who learnt to read Korean when I was 12 for no other reason than I was bored. I started actually learning what these words I could read meant later on in high school when I rediscovered my passion for learning it.

      I also studied Korean for 3.5 years before making my first trip to Korea and also felt the same as you. I agree with you completely. I would like to briefly state my argument to some of those people who say things like that here for you to read.

      While I was studying Korean the funny thing is that most of the people discouraging me to learn the language were Koreans themselves. One of my best friends(Korean) told me the same thing, that I was wasting my time. As I got better at Korean I realised they were very wrong and I had picked up such a useful and fun language.

      You see Koreans are very entrepreneurial. Wherever Koreans go and immigrate they start businesses. For comparison, while people might learn Japanese because they have a big population and are an economic super power, I found it to be useless. You see they do not tend to emigrate and even if they do, they do not start businesses. Koreans on the other hand I ran into all the time in any country I got to. There are always shops with Korean signs in them everywhere, sometimes in the most unexpected places. I have sometimes received extra service, free gifts and introductions to important people simply because I can speak Korean.

      I wonder if you experience the same in Singapore? Do you find you run into many Koreans or Korean shops?

      Anyway, what I’m saying is that even in NZ I could use Korean everyday with people I didn’t even know. 🙂

      1. hahaha that’s true! There are quite alot of Koreans in Singapore but I don’t really run into them. It’s not really the Singapore culture to go up to some stranger and talk, so I find it really awkward if I approach them. D:

    1. Totally feel you. My friends mostly study for the sake of getting good grades and hence, a ‘better future’. I don’t think that’s the point of education, but what can we say when paper qualifications have taken over our lives?

      As much as they’re right, we’re not ‘wrong’ either. I believe in passion 🙂

      1. It’s so hard trying to find the balance between pursuing our passions and interests and also to act in a way that is practical and realistic. I believe in passion too ^^

    1. Totally agree with you^^
      Actually we can’t really blame those who has the thinking that learning sth ‘for the sake of practical / economic benefits’ becos in the current education system we’re in, we are kind of being forced to do so.
      However, i’ve always remind myself that learning is a process of gaining knowledge and not just for the sake of getting good grades. I believe that one has to be really enjoying and passionate in learning so as not to feel that it’s a burden in our lives.

      1. It’ll be so sad if all learning is seen as a burden D: let’s hope more people will start to understand how we feel ^^

    1. i had a old primary school friend (whos somehow more like an acquaintance) studying commerce law ask me the question of what im studying purely for the sake of judging how useful it will be to me… i dont know why at the time, i felt the need to explain myself to that person.. but i tried and that felt even more like they weren’t even listening to start with..
      its so good to know that theres someone else out there who knows the benefits without me explaining it ^^ language really does open up a whole new world for people without them even knowing it!

      1. I have similar experiences too! I used to feel the need to explain and justify my choices, and I’ll get a little hurt and upset when they give me the polite puzzled look (or even worse, outright dismissing my justifications). I’ve since moved on and if I meet such people, I’ll not be bothered about them.

        Just visited your blog and it looks interesting! My dialect group is Hokkien and my mum loves to say how it sounds similar to Korean at times!

        1. ooo thanks for visiting
          i’m a horrible blogger.. i swear i have a whole list of similar pronunciation of words, but i’m so lazy >< i don't know how you do it, and continue to have something new/interesting to share with everyone almost daily.. teach me? lol

          that's awesome that your mum notices! lol i get so excited when i hear someone who's Hokkien/Teo Chew/Taiwanese who notices the similarities… no one around me seem to take much of an interest when i point it out… so i feel a little 슬퍼요~ but hence the blog and trying to put it out there nonetheless..

          anyways keep up the blogging! i love your blog =) it's reassuring and motivating to have you share your thoughts.

        1. I’m pretty bad at Hokkien. So when I try to speak, somehow I ended up adding in abit of Korean. O.o hahaha I tend to neglect the blog during school time, so I make it up by blogging extra often during the holidays! 😀 Having readers to interact with helps alot! extra motivation ^^

    1. I’ve had such comments from Singaporeans and Malaysians alike. Basically anyone who is not a korean language learner assume that I learn Korean either because a) I want to work/live in Korea one day. Or 2) I’m crazy about Korean men. Both reasons highly offends me for some reason. It’s like they’re belittling our interests and fitting it into some mould so they can understand why we would work so hard for something which does not seem to have any benefits for us living in this part of the world.


      In the end, we do not owe anyone any explaination to ‘justify’ ourselves.

      1. yeah well said! ^^ now that you mentioned yet, I get alot of ‘ooooh so you want a korean boyfriend? eh they are not the same like dramas leh!’ and they assume that since i’m fangirling quite often, I must be obsessed about getting a korean boyfriend.

        That is two. V.E.R.Y different things. And yeah whenever I heard such comments, I get really offended.

        1. Same here. As a white western guy everyone was all like, ah “So you can meet Korean girls?”. Would make me so so angry.

        1. Agreed. I tend to feel like I’m about to start ranting whenever I get comments like that. Then once you calm down, you realize it’s just not worth explaining to people because they’ve already made up their minds.

          Tit-bit story :

          I was doing some visa renewals today and there was a bunch of guys from China standing behind me in the queue. One dude was like looking over my shoulder and getting really close. I was smsing a korean friend at the time, then I heard another guy asked the guy behind me, ‘Is she zhong guo ren?’.
          His friend replied, ‘I don’t think so. I saw her messages and it looks like Korean’.
          His friend, ‘Har zhen de mah?’.
          The kicker was when I walked past them later on and one of them greeted me by saying ‘안녕하세요’. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. My chinese is horrendous otherwise i would have corrected them on their fail spot-the-asian-type skill.

        1. hahaha!! That’s so hilarious xD I get alot of stares when I’m on the MRT reading something Korean. But no one dared to approach me. I think I give off the 차도녀 vibe LOL.

        1. LOL. I had a similar experience. I was riding a bus and reading a Korean book. The guy beside me started talking to me in English, telling me that my stop is approaching!

    1. woah how did my nick change? teetotallerchimney’s comment is mine btw. –;

    1. Wow, I’m glad there are people like you out there. So I’m not the only one who is passionate about learning Korean. ^-^
      I know the feeling when someone looks at you with this puzzled gaze and thinks you are crazy because they believe you are doing something “extraordinary”. I’m German and of course there aren’t many people here who are interested in learning about Korea, but what gives them the right to judge you? OTL

    1. I totally understand you and your way of thinking.. i started learning Korean 3 years ago and now I made this a passion for myself.
      to be honest, at first I didn’t want to learn this language. i was actually facinated by their writing system and I thought it would be cool to understand all those letters. after I learnt them, I held a newspaper in my hand and I tried to read.. of course I could understand the letters but then, out of nowhere it popped out in my head: why shouldn’t I give it a try and learn the language.. I would be doing something different, something not many of us do nowadays.. i would take up a language not because of school but because I want to learn it, because I want to know more about Korean culture, their way of life and I truly think that the best way to know a country is to know that respective language.
      What you wrote is very inspiring and shows people the true meaning of learning a foreign language and that is personal growth and a deeper understanding of a different culture. I appreciate this and I hope you will never give up on your perception and your passions.

      1. Hi Christi!

        Thanks for leaving a comment ^^ haha you basically nailed what I was struggling to express in words. ‘personal growth’. I totally agree with that. It’s amazing how by learning a language, I feel that I have matured and grown wiser as a person. ^^

    1. So true! Fortunately I’ve never gotten any “You’re just wasting your time.” comment, but most people here would give me a 와! 대단하다 look that would immediately be followed by a “I heard the pay is good in Korea.” O.o I want to say “Wait! I never said anything about wanting to work in Korea or something like that”. It’s quite understandable though, since we’re from a third world country and everyone sees overseas employment as the best way to improve ones life.
      I don’t mind working in Korea or in a company where I can use my Korean. But at the same time, I don’t mind having a job that is totally not Korean related. But I think it’ll be difficult to explain to everyone (even to my mom!) that I’m learning Korean simply because I want to. I want to understand the language. I want to get to know the culture. I want to communicate with different people. Maybe if people here (my mom included, unfortunately) will hear me say this, that’s the time I’ll get the ‘you’re just wasting your time’ thing. >.<

      At the university though, most kids will think that you are into K-pop if you know / if you are studying Korean. O.o

    1. i’m so glad that i found your blog and read this post…coz that’s exactly how i feel!!!! i gotta agree with everyone’s comments here and glad to know that there are many people out there who shares the same passion…learning a foreign language purely out of interest and for personal development..i mean life is short…and having been expected to do the ‘right’ thing all these years…i think it’s time to do something that i like to do…not just to meet someone’s expectation and not think about what kind of monetary benefits that i’ll get…the joy of learning can’t be measured in monetary terms…after my 1st Korean lesson i actually felt that i live again..and that’s what keeps me going… =)

      1. just to add hurts to hear comments like ‘you are wasting your time learning a foreign language’ or ‘you want to marry a Korean man’ etc…but i don’t think i need to justify to anyone..i’ll just ignore and continue learning coz afterall this is what i like to do and this is my life… =)

    1. I gladly take foreign language classes as a hobby. So far, I’ve had in college German, Spanish, Japanese, & Arabic. I believe most people scoff at this because they see no point, & I don’t counter their statement other than stating it’s my hobby. Realistically, what’s the likelihood of attaining fluency in any of these languages? It’s been my observation that employers are interested only in fluent speakers. One way my hobby could be useful would be that an employer would send me over to another country to live & work for their overseas division, given that I have had some college courses in that language. However, I’m not holding my breath.

    1. Agreed! I felt the same when I started taking up foreign languages. But I found countable new good friends and it makes the life more interesting. 🙂

    1. Hello! I intend to go for Korean classes in June. Googled about Korean language centres and saw your blog. Agree with your views! 🙂

      Watching Korean variety shows and dramas & listening to Kpop music ignite the interest of understanding the language. I feel that i might be abit late in learning Korean (in my late twenties). But my friends told me that it is never too late in learning new things. I like to gain new knowledge because it will enhance my mind in the long run. 🙂

      1. That’s an awesome decision (: Have fun learning!

        Yeah it’s definitely not too late! Learning new things will always widen your perspectives ^^

    1. Why don’t people criticize those that practise a sport (that has no financial benefits), but always those that learn a language just for the fun of learning it?
      I don’t get it.

      Sorry for my English, still trying to improve it but I reached the plateau zone hahahha

    1. I agree with you! There are subtle benefits to learning languages and even if there aren’t, that isn’t a reason to not pursue our interests. Anyway, would you write a post on how Korean you’ve become in the years that you’ve learnt Korean without spending extended periods of time in Korea? I think that would be a very interesting post!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *