English

Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It?

Short answer: It depends on what you mean by “worth it.”

Freakonomics (one of my podcast favorites) recently did a short show on the merits of learning a foreign language. Most of the foreigners in Spain whom I know would argue that learning a foreign language is indeed quite beneficial. We are always posting articles on the benefits of bilingualism. There are myriad other reasons too: you become smarter, you know your native language better, you stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia, your memory improves, you become more perceptive … In short, the benefits are endless.

But what about financial benefits?

 

78568751Source: Getty Images

Freakonomics talks to Albert Saíz, a Spanish (Catalonian) professor of economics who specializes in immigration. He wrote a paper titled Listening to What the World Says: Bilingualism and Earnings in the United States. Saíz wanted to figure out just how much a person can gain (future earnings) by knowing a foreign language. He talked to 9,000 college grads about how their knowledge of a foreign language had affected their wages. Here’s what he had to say:

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Teaching English; Forgetting English

It always irks me when Americans, after spending three whole months in Spain, say they’re forgetting English. How adorable! You’ve spent a total of 90 days here, and you’re already losing your native-language skills.

Or not. Because you’re not. No, really, you aren’t.

That’s why I won’t be claiming anything of the sort. Nope, what I want to talk about is overanalyzing the way you say things. You must know what I’m talking about. Have you ever read or said a word over and over again until it seemed like it wasn’t even a word at all, just a jumble of arbitrary letters and sounds? Let’s try an experiment:

Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. I don’t know about you, but that word is weird. I even had to refer to Google to make sure I wasn’t spelling it wrong. And I was a sixth-grade spelling-bee champion! Squirrel. Ugh, is that even right? Okay, yes. Yes, it is.

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How Teaching English in Spain Has Improved My English

Teaching English in Spain was never a dream of mine. I’ve ended up here through a series of choices, coincidences, and a fair amount of luck. Nonetheless, while I may not wish to pursue this career path after my time in Spain comes to an end, I know that teaching English has helped me in many ways, including in my knowledge of English. Yes, my English grammar and semantics have improved as a result of me teaching English here.

Auxiliares de Conversación en España
Gee, what a great cultural ambassador I am

No, I didn’t confuse your and you’re, and I most certainly never wrote to instead of two or too. And while I used to be a bit more of a grammar fascist, I’ve come to realize that I’m more of a descriptivist than a prescriptivist. Nonetheless, while other people may talk and write without following the “rules,” I choose to try my best to follow the rules. Thus, I have been thrilled to find that teaching English has allowed me to brush up on certain facets of the English language.

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Things Bicultural Couples Do

Bicultural and/or international couples (in my case, both) have some habits that can seem odd for an outsider. Most of the time, when Mario and I take a trip, we end up speaking a weird hodgepodge of English and Spanish and Spanglish, which confuses the locals who just want to place us in a little box. (Oh, Americans; or Oh, Spaniards.) But no, we’re not so easily categorized or identified.

Mix up traditions

I wear my wedding ring (alianza) on my right hand because I didn’t have the traditional engagement ring and wedding ring match set. I wanted everyone who saw me, in Spain and in the US, to know I was taken, so I figured I’d wear one ring on each finger. Problem solved. Mario, on the other hand (literally), wears his on the other hand, his left. Why? It’s more comfortable. So we mix up traditions. So what?

We also chose to say our vows both in English and in Spanish, because those words in our native languages were and are really important to us.

Oh yeah, and we had two weddings. We’ve decided we could have one every year. There are lots of states, after all.

Code switch

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