Why it’s okay to learn a “useless” foreign language in high school

16 Mar

My educational background, when it comes to learning foreign languages is not quite as rich as it should be. I’m a high school student whose only just started learning a foreign language in high school. Previously, I had learned Spanish in Middle School and Elementary School. Today, I am learning Japanese as my foreign language.

My decision to learn Japanese was a decision I made spontaneously. I was talking to the foreign language counselor at my school about the different languages that were available to learn. Spanish was one of them, and the one I’d been studying on my own on-and-off for a long time. Another was French, for which I had little interest in the culture or language (I love France but there’s other cultures I find more interesting), then there was mandarin Chinese, and finally, Japanese. I had my heart set on Mandarin Chinese. And then, right before the counselor wrote me down for the Chinese class, I changed my mind. I wanted to study Japanese.

I knew I’d always had a high appreciation for the Japanese culture, ever since I ate sushi for the first time. This interest grew when I first attempted to fold origami cranes, and later, when I started watching anime. Many family and friends I knew whom I’d asked about this “which language should I learn?” question had advised me against choosing Japanese. They said I’d never be able to practice it, and that it’s useless since it’s only spoken in one country. And just as I made that decision in that counselor’s room, I realized something: I didn’t care what others thought. I cared far more about my interest in a language than how useful it is. And because of that, I realized, I’d be far more motivated to earn good grades in a Japanese class than a Spanish class.

Obviously, it’s great to learn a more useful language such as Spanish. But when I’d learned it in the past, in middle school and elementary school, it just didn’t captivate me the way Japanese does today. I viewed the Spanish class as a chore rather than something to look forward to. I had a far more difficult time learning the grammar rules in Spanish back then, than I do in Japanese today, even though Spanish is a less complex language to learn and a younger child’s brain is better at learning languages.

So if you find yourself choosing between learning a “useful” language that’s not as interesting to you, or a “useless” language where the culture is a lot more interesting to you, here’s my advice: go with the “useless” one. There may be less opportunities to practice it in home soil, but sooner or later, if you can raise the money and aren’t afraid to get on a plane, you’ll probably have an opportunity, at some point in your life, to practice it. Being interested in a language makes it far more fun to learn, and your grades will probably reflect that. And if you really need to know a bit of Spanish too, you can always learn the basics in it along the way.

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