6 Reasons Learning a Foreign Language Is Completely Useless

by Darwin on February 22, 2012

When I was in middle school, I had the choice of learning French, Spanish or Latin. I didn’t have a particular interest in learning a foreign language, and had never left the country or had any international exposure to speak of. In my rather naive and simple estimation of my options, I understood that the benefit of learning French was that it was an “elegant” and sophisticated sounding language that chicks liked, learning Latin was good if you wanted to become a doctor since so much of the anatomy is based on Latin roots, and learning Spanish was good because Mexicans were over-running our borders. That was how I understood it. As it turns out, none of those are legitimate reasons for learning those languages and as I’ve progressed through my career and seen the careers of my schoolmates and the hundreds of people I know in my personal life, I’ve realized that learning a foreign language as an American usually has absolutely no utility whatsoever professionally.

Before you flay me for being “close-minded” or a knuckle-dragging engineer, just consider the points below. I’m just tellin’ it like it is:

  • First and Second Gen Immigrants are WAY More Fluent Than You Are – Many of my friends and neighbors are either first or second generation immigrants from India, China, Taiwan and numerous other countries.  Even if they didn’t spend much time in the native country, their parents speak nothing but – so they are VERY fluent.  There are millions of such multi-lingual Americans entering the workforce each year, so why do they need you as an English-speaking American who learned a language on the side?
  • Professionals in the Rest of the World Speak English – So what’s the point? I deal with a lot of international colleagues and foreign companies. I’ve also traveled a fair amount. I have never, ever had the need to learn another language because everyone else speaks English. Sure, maybe commoners in the Ukraine or a villager in China doesn’t speak English, but in business, those aren’t the people you’re going to interact with! You’re going to interface with business development directors, buyers, contractors and other “elite” English-speaking people overseas. In India and many other ex-British colonies, most of the educated class speaks English. Europeans our age usually speak English. Chinese that want our business put their English-speaking colleauges in the hot seat. It’s the universal language and everyone outside the US and Europe that wants to be a global player puts English speaking personnel in those positions. A rare exception is Japan, where we often have our bilingual employees of Japanese descent translate for us. But practically speaking, there’s no shortage of Japanese first and second gen immigrants in the US either.
  • If Your Company Wants Diversity, They’ll Hire That Ethnicity, Not You – Even though you may speak Spanish, if you’re not Hispanic, you’re not “the real deal”. You don’t have Hispanic parents, you didn’t grow up watching telemundo and you don’t have the culture and perspective in your blood. When you interact with clients in Latin America, you won’t score the points for being “an American with broken Spanish skills” compared to being a Latino. Diversity means authentic representation of other cultures, backgrounds, etc., not just “speaking the language”.
  • America is Increasingly Being Filled With Multi-Lingual Professionals – The days of the need for a multi-lingual white Americans are numbered. America’s greatest strength is its immigration and capitalistic society, right? Everyone in the world wants to come here and if we continue to do a half-way decent job of who we let in, we’ll continue the trend of seeing millions of immigrants entering the US workforce who can speak their language perfectly (obviously), and often times, they can speak English more eloquently than probably 90% of the Americans I’ve met as well. So, what’s the need for a lifetime American who speaks mildly fluently in foreign languages when there are millions of other candidates who fit the whole bill?
  • You Lose Your Skills Immediately Upon Graduation – My wife is a German major, so I don’t have something against people who try to learn a foreign language (I’m just highlighting that it’s useless). She spent years in middle school and high school German, then majored in German in college since there was no education undergrad (she had to choose that major, then do the education Master’s program). She spent an entire summer in Germany and right after she graduated, we met Germans on vacation while in Europe who she conversed with daily. Now? She isn’t able to hold a conversation in German. Unless you have family speaking another language or go right into a country and speak the language, no matter how much training you had in school, you’ll lose it quickly.
  • Companies Are Increasingly Hiring Locally. The US multi-linguist is No Longer Necessary – Aside from the fact that if a company is looking for non-English speaking employees they will hire the real deal, they’re also sick of paying for relocations and travel. We’re in a connected world now where people work virtually, video conferencing can be used for face-time and local is where it’s at.  I’m seeing this in my company.  I’m in a corporate-based group where it would have been unheard of to hire someone overseas to do one of our jobs, but we’re now hiring people in Latin America, Asia and Europe to manage issues in those regions instead of doing it from headquarters.  Same job, a hell of a lot less money!  You don’t have to pay someone overseas US wages, you don’t have to adhere to the US benefits expectations like healthcare, pension, severance, etc. and you don’t have to pay to fly them overseas constantly.  This is the model companies are adapting.

I’m sure plenty of you will cite anecdotes about how remembering what banana means in Spanish helped you out at a client meeting or whatever, but the bottom line is, for kids in school now, this is a dying professional requirement IMO. Do I think all foreign language classes should be abolished? Nah, I think Americans could use even more international exposure, cultural exposure and stop being so US-centric.  Most of the world thinks we’re idiots, and in large part we are.  Spending a few years in your formative years learning about the language, foods, cultures and even traveling to foreign countries would do us all some good. But for kids spending all their electives on foreign languages or minoring in a foreign language thinking it’s going to give them that dream job, they may have spent their time on something more meaningful in the future job market IMO.


Your Turn – Do You Use Your Foreign Language Skills At All? Ever?


{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

AverageJoe February 22, 2012 at 11:45 pm

I couldn’t agree more, especially with the point that we need to be less U.S. centric. It’s once you head outside the United States that you realized how close-minded many of us are here.

I only try to learn a language when I’m headed to that particular country and am going to use it. I like to attempt to communicate in the native language as much as possible. Even if it’s only to say “I don’t speak XXXX language,” it’s a gesture I hope some appreciate–and many have.


Darwin February 23, 2012 at 8:56 am

When I’m in a foreign country I think aloud how great it would be to know the language. But mastery takes years and I’m in a different country a year later; it would never be feasible for me.


Andrea @SoOverDebt February 22, 2012 at 11:46 pm

I took 7 years of Spanish between high school and college. I will say it has come in handy a few times (seeing an adolescent for therapy whose parents don’t speak English), but it’s mostly useless because I don’t use it enough to remember.

A friend of mine is a bilingual speech therapist – this has paid off for her tremendously, because there are so few people in our area who can provide services in both English and Spanish. However, I think that’s rare – very few careers require someone to speak multiple languages.

Next year my son is taking German as his required foreign language. When the heck will he ever need to speak German? Probably never. As much as I respect the need for our kids to learn about other cultures, I’d rather see him spend that time studying something he may actually use.


Darwin February 23, 2012 at 8:58 am

If your career depends on working with ESL kids or something, of course that language will be a requirement. But for most typical companies and even multinationals, the points above seem to handle the need.


martin February 23, 2012 at 1:37 am

very cynical article, you’re better off in business if you’re multi-lingual and there’s not a business executive i know that would argue that. And just because you “lose it after graduation” doesn’t mean it’s not useful, it means u were too lazy to pursue it further. Americans are FAR better off being multi-lingual, and I am a born and raised American who travels for work so I have an informed opinion. Mindsets like this are a danger in a more and more globalized world in my opinion.


Darwin February 23, 2012 at 9:06 am

I don’t know what’s cynical, just being practical. I didn’t write it in a sarcastic or snarky tone. Which of the points above would you disagree with?

Saying you’re “better off if” you have ANY skill is going to be better than not, right? But what’s the tradeoff? I’m better off if I speak 4 languages, I’m better off if I’ve lived in 7 countries, I’m better off if I’ve worked at several companies before, better off if I have 3 different degrees… but what was lost along the way?

I travel for work too. And each time I’m in a foreign country… they speak Enlgish!

And if they don’t, we bring a recent immigrant who truly speaks the language, knows the culture, and is basically, very much like the people we’re visiting. Example, the Japanese inspection agency is coming to inspect one of our plants – do we go try to find a Caucasian who learned how to speak Japanese? Or just hire a Japanese-American who speaks Japanese? What do you think?


Rachel February 23, 2012 at 11:06 am

I recommend that all kids learn to speak a foreign language if only for the side benefit that it forces you to learn to speak English more properly. I learned more about English grammar and sentence construction in my foreign language classes than I did in English.
Also, in business, there’s a pay bonus for being able to speak another language besides English fluently. If you can master it, then it’s worth it.


Darwin February 23, 2012 at 9:56 pm

The notion that you learned more about English in a spanish class than you did in English class probably says something about your school district.


Rachel February 23, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Actually, I went to a prep school, but please tell me what in what English class past perhaps 9th grade or remedial classes you learn about parts of speech and sentence structure in depth. While these things aren’t glamorous or exciting (horribly boring to be quite honest), a proper understanding of the parts of speech and sentence construction leads to clearer writing and speech. The reason you learn more about these things in a foreign language class than in an English class is because you have to thoroughly understand the parts of speech in English that the foreign language is replicating in order to properly construct thoughts in a foreign language. In fact, most foreign language text books will explain the part of speech in the English language first before explaining what the equivalent is in the foreign language. Your snarky comment about my education or school district just shows your limited exposure to foreign language education and its benefits beyond the obvious ability to speak a foreign language.


Darwin February 23, 2012 at 10:19 pm

OK, so professionally speaking (because that was how I qualified my statement in the article), how has this benefited you? Aside from the standard 2 years everyone takes (which do provide the sentence structure, etc. during the mandatory phase anyway), how would years more or minoring in a language in college or whatever incrementally improve your career?


Rachel February 23, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I never recommended spending more than the foreign language requirement in high school on learning a foreign language. I happened to study languages in college, but that wasn’t for career purposes since it was the most useless major I could have ever picked. I found it personally enriching, but it has no value at all for me in corporate America. I was actually just trying to point out the biggest benefit of foreign language study I noticed. After all, there are so many kids graduating high school and college with only a tenuous grasp of the elements of the English language. That, in and of itself, is the saddest thing. I work for a publishing company. They actually give every employee a grammar and editing test as part of the application process. Proper English is a huge asset when applying for a job.

Anna February 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm

I have to agree with Rachel here. Learning foreign languages helped me a lot to communicate more effectitvely and correctly in my mother language (German). You’re just a lot more aware about the way you speak and the words you use.


krantcents February 23, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Unless you practice the language, you will forget it. If you can use it, why did you learn it? I know foreign language is a school requirement, if you wantt o go to college. I think there is a need to learn a language, but our American society does not encourage multi languages.


Darwin February 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Is foreign language a requirement for college? Never heard that one. I think all school teach at least 2 years regardless, but I wonder why that’s a requirement for 99% of the majors?


Mike February 23, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Your second point makes you come off as ignorant and is the reason Americans are hated when traveling abroad. To assume others speak your language because “they have to” is disgusting.

I may not have mastered Italian, but every person I interacted with appreciated my effort. I attended a professional conference there and was successful in the bits and pieces I know from several languages to interact with the international attendees. For some people I met, we were only able to communicate in a language that we mutually knew, even if a minimal knowledge.

Besides, educating oneself is important for demonstrating an interest in self-improvement. That is what managers notice. Even if you butcher a language, it is better to fail than to never try.


Darwin February 23, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Mike, who’s ignorant? I speak the truth. While it may not sound PC, it is how the world is today. Tell me, how many 3rd and beyond-generation Americans speak a Mandarin, Hindi or otherwise? Virtually none. How many Indians speak English? In the educated class, virtually all of them (and more eloquently than probably 75% of the American populous mind you).

I think “disgusting” is a moronic use of the word. I’m saying how it IS. It doesn’t matter how it “should” be. This is the real world, try it out.


Kevin Mzansi February 23, 2012 at 4:19 pm

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. ~ Nelson Mandela

I think you are looking at the issue from the perspective of a low-context culture. In high-context cultures, the ongoing relationship is valued more than the current business undertaking.

Yes, the business can be handled in English, most of the time, but you really cultivate an ongoing relationship by showing that you are willing to understand where the other person is coming from. You will see how people light up when you string together a couple of sentences, no matter how haphazardly. I can tell you, without doubt, that you build up much more trust just by trying.

Long-term business arrangements are all about relationships and trust. You have an instant advantage by engaging the people in the organization by speaking in their language.


Darwin February 23, 2012 at 10:02 pm

You are all looking at this from the perspective of the guy in another country. Look at it from the perspective of your US employer. They are often not going to care; they are going to hire someone else who looks like and/or talks fluently for the region they are doing business. It’s the new normal.


joe @ Retire By 40 February 23, 2012 at 4:34 pm

I took 2 years of Spanish in high school and that was enough. 🙂
I would love to learn Mandarin though. On our China trip, nobody speaks English and it was very difficult to communicate. I’ll try to get my kid into a Mandarin program. I still think it will come in handy in the future.


Darwin February 23, 2012 at 10:03 pm

You may well spend years trying to master it for a trip in the future. Meantime, you could have made six figures in side income in the same period of time and paid a bi-lingual guide and bodyguard to go whereever you want (and pay for the trip a few times over as well) with that same amount of money :>


Well Heeled Blog February 23, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Hmmm… I thought about how I should respond to this post. I think you definitely have a point, and for many people, learning a second language doesn’t add to immediate career benefits. On the other hand, I know folks (non-ethnic Chinese or Chinese Americans) who have studied Mandarin through college, studied abroad in Beijing, and now manages a department in China (and managing Chinese speakers), growing professionally far more quickly than they could have in the U.S. If you speak Farsi or Arabic, whether you are a native or have acquired advance proficiency, there are a TON of jobs for you right now, especially if you are in D.C. or willing to relocate. I have friends who have snagged plum jobs with the U.S. government or with contractors because of their language abilities.

I grew up speaking Mandarin, learned English, then studied Spanish, and I believe that being bilingual (with goal of becoming truly proficient in Spanish & making it to the trilingual stage) has enriched my life. I’m not sure about how my language abilities will help my career, although with China booming the way it is, Mandarin is a mightily fine skill to have.

The thing is – it’s hard to know what language or what skill will be in vogue or in demand years a head of time (remember in the 1980s when everyone was learning Japanese?), but that doesn’t mean the study of another language is without value. I think that’s probably the sentiment that some readers are objecting to. Many times the things we learn lead us in unexpected places. Steve Jobs would have never grasped the cool elegance that made Apple iconic without his caligraphy class. And while caligraphy is not career-enhancing for most folks, it obviously made an impact on him.


Darwin February 23, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Many good points, but like you pointed out, it’s trying to hit a moving target. yes, when I grew up, the Japanese were “buying America” and it was the language du jour – now they’re in a dying economy, drenched in debt and now struggling with a nuclear emergency. Japan will likely not be the boom people once thought. Mandarin – tough to argue that China won’t be a big factor in the future. I guess if you know at 14 you want to move to China and make that a career, it makes sense. And Steve Jobs did point out that class in his commencement speech at Stanford, but any anecdotes about Steve Jobs scream survivorship bias. He is the exception and history forgets the rest. How many millions of Americans took a course in calligraphy that subsequently did absolutely nothing for them.


Well Heeled Blog February 28, 2012 at 10:32 pm

I just thought of something – anecdotal but our lives are anecdotes. 🙂 I once lost out on a job because the other candidate knew Japanese. This company did a lot of business with U.S. Army bases in Japan, and they do 1-2 big trips over there a year. So even though I had the quantitative and people skills to do the job, my lack of language ability made her a much better candidate. I might have gotten the job if my competition didn’t speak the language, but that wasn’t the case.


Darwin February 23, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Rachel (ran out of replies in the thread); I wholeheartedly agree American kids need work on their English skills. I come across people at work (degreed, sometimes Master’s) who really can’t string together a coherent sentence. I’m now a landlord in a college town and the emails and written letters I get from the kids about their rent check, damage to the room or whatever – the language is unintelligible. And they are in college! It’s amazing and alarming at the same time.


Rachel February 23, 2012 at 11:41 pm

I shudder to think of the horrible English you’re forced to endure. I predict a major shift in the English language toward further simplification in spelling and grammar due to the focus on the internet and the informality of internet culture which will occur during my own lifetime.


101 Centavos February 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I don’t know (but I’ve been told) that is exceedingly hard for English native speakers to learn a foreign language to any level of proficiency. Even a little bit of knowledge though, improves communication *in English* with non-native English speakers. Americans are infamous for being unable to pronounce foreign names and for speaking way too fast and colloquially. I’ve noticed that people enunciate words better and speak more slowly when they have a passing knowledge of a foreign language. Totally anecdotal, but there you have it.


Martin February 24, 2012 at 6:53 pm

I recall while in Iraq, some of the KBR contractors would run over on R/R to the Philippines and Thailand since it was cheap, and: “Everyone is so nice and speaks English”.

While transitting through Dubai, (Airport, Hotel etc), everyone spoke English. (Probably a requirement in the tourism industry, but you could find your way around to the next English speaker).

But the point is: When you throw around enough money, anyone speaks English. And I’m sure that includes business.

@Mike, American’s aren’t hated abroad. If a foreigner has to learn English, it’s because they’re in the tourism industry. You have to remember that English is a second language in a lot of countries other than Britain and the US. It is, and will be the universal language of money for a long time.

@Welled Heeled Blog, Learning a language will definently enrich your life. No question about that.


Shilpan February 25, 2012 at 1:35 am

This is incredibly well written post. I’m a first generation immigrant and I speak three languages fluently. I agree with your reasoning that, for most Americans, it is not worthwhile to learn another language. Smart thinking.


Darwin February 29, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Thanks for your comment; appreciate the perspective from a first gen immigrant – so I wasn’t too far off on my assessment!


Len Penzo February 25, 2012 at 2:30 pm

LOL! Loved this piece. I was nodding my head the whole way through this.

I’ve had four years of Spanish in school, and for about six months I also hit my Rosetta Spanish language software hard to fortify my “skills.”

Guess what? I can barely hold a conversation with my Mexican garden crew because I do not immerse myself in the language. Yes, I can read Spanish and understand it fairly well. I can also speak rudimentary Spanish when I want to — but when a speaker talks to me in Spanish, or responds to me in Spanish when I ask a question, I rarely understand them because they speak much faster than my overwhelmed brain can process the data its being flooded with.

The only way to really learn a language and have it stick in your brain is to live in a foreign country for about three years. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time.


Darwin February 29, 2012 at 10:30 pm

I wonder if English sounds fast to foreign language speakers that try to learn English. Other languages sure to sound fast!


Erwin July 25, 2012 at 2:01 am

No, English doesn’t sound fast to Mexicans as you might think Spanish sounds fast. Rather, English sounds fluid. Although all languages to some extent sound fast to a foreign ear, less “data-dense” languages like Spanish, Tagalog, Japanese, etc. tend to sound faster. Data-dense means that it requires more syllables to form a word (idea). Here’s a good article: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2091477,00.html

BTW, I totally agree with you. I love languages myself and am making a life learning them all, but I get really irritated when people ask me what I’m gonna do with my Japanese major and French minor. It’s not as if I’m studying them for practicality. I spent my whole life (and still counting) learning English. It’s almost insulting when one tells me he’ll learn a foreign language to increase his marketability. That minuscule advantage is NOT commensurate of the time, cost, and labor that one has to go through to achieve a useful knowledge of that language. Learning a language is a labor of love; one does it because he cannot not do it.

P.S. Those people who made practical use of their foreign language learned that language out of love first before practicality.


Darwin July 25, 2012 at 7:22 am

Interesting, always wondered how fast English sounds to others!


Monica February 25, 2012 at 3:16 pm

As soon as I saw the title, I knew this post would be hotly debated! They are actually doing away with the language requirement in the middle schools of the district we live in, presumably because it will save money. You raised some interesting points, and I can see both sides of the equation. I completely agree that too many people in the younger generations have horrible grammar and verbal skills, and I cringe when I hear consonants dropped, as well as vulgar slang. I worked with a high school graduate who didn’t know how to spell “vanilla,” and said she would look it up on her Iphone. Thanks public schools!


Darwin February 29, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Wow, I’m surprised to hear schools are dropping foreign language as a requirement. I guess someone beat me to the punch!


Ella February 25, 2012 at 5:30 pm

I think language skills definitely gives you an edge that can open new career opportunities.
Your post somehow offended me, but I don’t really know why… Maybe because I am french and I find this typical american lazy attitude a bit annoying 🙂


Darwin February 29, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Au contraire! It’s not about laziness at all, but about utility!


Stu February 26, 2012 at 2:12 pm

In high school we had to take 3 years of one language, or two years of two languages (4 years total). I didn’t have a foreign language requirement in college (engineering degree).
I agree that it sounds and FEELS good if you know another language, but Darwin has very valid points. Instead of spending 2+ years learning a language, I could get a Masters Degree, start a new business, or any number of other things.
It’s all a matter of priority and time management. Where do you get the most “bang-for-your-buck”?


Darwin February 29, 2012 at 10:32 pm

I take it like 99% of Americans you don’t find yourself using your foreign language skills either…


Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog February 27, 2012 at 5:43 pm

As soon as I figured out that my language learning was to fill a requirement for my university and nothing more, I took it and was done with it. Sure, I can “get by” in spanish with out someone bringing me a gaggle of hookers when I need to use the restroom, but other than that, I’ve gotten 0 use from my language skills (spanish and ASL) professionally, and I dont anticipate getting any either. At this point, my skills have atrophied to the point where they are functionally useless anyway.


Darwin February 29, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Same here. “Mi permite ir al bano” is all I retained.


Jean Francois Champollion February 29, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Your article is unbelievably stupid. You clearly are not a scholar. While I cannot speak French or German very well, I can readily read the very extensive and invaluable literature in those languages, most often almost as well as I can read English. To become a fluent speaker in any language is a different skill than learning to read it because it involves a different type of recall. Surely, I can carry out a simple discussion when I travel–you know, for food, transportation, lodging, etc. But a detailed discussion on most topics would be impossible. I try to read some French and German every day. I enjoy it and it has very importantly influenced my command of English, my native tongue. In no way do I regret having studied any of the ten languages that I have examined to one degree or another. I do not pretend to be a linguist; I’m a microbiologist and amateur musicologist with serious interests in an unusually wide variety of other disciplines.

If one just wants to slave away at a brainless job, drink beer, watch TV, play golf, sit around staring into space, or sleep, your advice perhaps would be more applicable. Let’s just say it’s not my lifestyle…



Darwin February 29, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Your comment is utterly stupid and you clearly are no scholar yourself. Try reading the article again. Comprehend. Then come back.

Your anecdote about “enjoying it”. See, that’s a hobby. I play guitar and piano and read a wide range of content for enjoyment. yay. Professionally, none of that helps me. Rather than learning a foreign language, I got an MBA, started a blog, run an outsourcing firm and I’m a landlord. I keep pretty busy and I’m compensated quite well for it. I don’t think you understood the article, perhaps focus on comprehending your native tongue and you’d be well served :>


Monica March 1, 2012 at 12:08 am

Bravo! Touche! Your response to Monsieur Jean Francois Champollion was outstanding!


Jon August 1, 2012 at 10:33 am

You certainly need not attempt to learn another language. You are yet to grasp the basic concepts of your native tongue.

“I don’t think you understood the article, perhaps focus on comprehending your native tongue and you’d be well served “


well February 29, 2012 at 10:50 pm

I respect your point of view, but let me tell you that this is the classic gringo point of view, I should read you again in about 8 years from now


Darwin February 29, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Where am I wrong?


well February 29, 2012 at 11:09 pm

You dont speak another language just beacuse you dont need to, but in 5 to 8 years the economy from depeveloping countries will go way uphill, most business will be made on cantonese and spanish. And believe me, they will not come to you, you will come to them.

Thats just my bet, dont take it for granted


Darwin February 29, 2012 at 11:38 pm

The economies of developing countries have been outpacing that of the US for decades now. It’s an old story. Increasingly, what I said above is becoming even more prevalent – more dual-language foreigners in the US, more dual-language counterparts overseas.

I’m curious where you came up with “5-8 years”.


Jean Francois Champollion February 29, 2012 at 11:03 pm

I took you advice and re-read your article.

Your life–as you described it–sounds most tedious to me…

My conclusion is that you have almost nothing in common with Darwin.

The MBA tells it all…


Darwin February 29, 2012 at 11:34 pm

Sure, 1 paragraph describes my life. You went from calling me lazy to tedious. But you didn’t address the article…
On Darwin? One of my passions is evolutionary biology. Another is finance. What a perfect marriage!
I don’t see your point on the MBA; evidently you are into stereotyping as well.


Miiockm March 4, 2012 at 9:26 pm

What is a downside to being bilingual? Even if you think it doesn’t help, how does it hurt you? Being able to converse with or do business with a greater percentage of the world’s population seems like a major plus.


Darwin March 4, 2012 at 10:14 pm

I don’t think anyone portrayed learning something new as being harmful. There’s always some benefit to be derived from any learning. I just said it not very useful in today’s economy. Not harmful.


herpderp June 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm

I read your article twice. At first I was like, mhmm, this makes a lot of sense. And you had so many valid points. Though before I make any snap decisions on my own foreign language pursuits, do you speak any foreign languages at say a B1 to B2 level at any point in time? Because if you haven’t then you aren’t really at liberty to write posts like this.


Coolcat June 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I read your article twice. At first I was like, mhmm, this makes a lot of sense. And you had so many valid points. Though before I make any snap decisions on my own foreign language pursuits, do you speak any foreign languages at say a B1 to B2 level at any point in time? Because if you haven’t then you aren’t really at liberty to write posts in this fashion


Darwin July 25, 2012 at 7:42 am

I disagree completely. I am at liberty to write something that is commonly accepted and known to be true, but not publicized for fear of seeming “mean” or not “diverse” and all that good stuff. It’s reality. I work for a multinational, have an MBA, have hired people for international positions and have plenty of first-hand experience trying to grow businesses overseas and know this to be the case.


Funny about Money March 12, 2012 at 7:19 pm

That’s sad. Really sad.


herpderp April 8, 2012 at 11:28 am

hurrr durrr we murrican are superiur, stoopid foreiniers just lrn english cuz its teh superior langauge


Darwin July 25, 2012 at 7:43 am

Sure, anything that doesn’t go with your thesis is racist.


Elaine May 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Well, it can be useless, or it can be helpful. It all depends on what your going to do with your life. I personally think it is better to always learn something. I was always told that if you don’t bother learning about anything, your lazy. Just had to say that. 🙂


Darwin July 25, 2012 at 7:44 am

What else could you have done with all that time and effort it took to try to master a foreign language? Probably a more important skill.


frank May 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm

I guess it’s pointless to have wasted time and money to learn French and Spanish.

You have inspired me to rejoin the ranks of people who speak only English. I will tell everyone I know this (very little work because they all agree with you)! Whenever I travel anywhere, i will use only English and praise everyone for their great command of the “only language worth knowing”.

All Hail English!!


Darwin July 25, 2012 at 7:45 am

This article was not about leisure and travel, but business. If you want to learn a language for your own personal pursuits, go for it! I’m learning piano. That will not help my career one bit. I enjoy it.


john September 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm

There are good points that you have raised with your article, as you speak from a economical, practical point of view. You argument only corresponds to those who are sorely mistaken in learning foreign languages, specifically for the purpose of finding a job, or improving their resume. Personal, intellectual, and even spiritual development take precedence over any seemingly practical implications of learning a foreign language. Achieving mastery of French or German, among many others, and being able to read poetry in those languages, or Harry Potter, is just plain magical, and no amount of financial rewards could trump that intangible euphoric moment. I hope anyone who reads this article does not misconstrue its arguments and be led to the conclusion that learning any foreign languages is bad, as it only points out that such endeavour is useless within the context of the business world.


Darwin September 20, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Yes, I used the example of piano lessons. While this is a perfectly legit recreational activity and perhaps even some anecdotal evidence of benefit for math/thinking skills, it wouldn’t help professionally.


Aimee September 22, 2012 at 1:42 am

Several local cities and school districts automatically reject any applicants who do not speak Spanish. My husband refuses to leave the state, so I am faced with the possibility of having to divorce my husband if I ever want to be employed again.


Leroy Bones October 9, 2012 at 1:08 am

I have to agree. I studied French and Spanish, both, at different points in my life, including 4-month stints overseas speaking no English. It was interesting, enriching, fun, exciting . . . but I cannot say it benefited me professionally at all. How many hours with flash cards, or conjugating verbs, creeping through a foreign language Reader’s Digest . . . all for naught as I no longer remember 75% of what I once knew, anyway. It is an excellent vehicle for hooking up with natives, however.


nick April 15, 2013 at 5:46 am

to everyone who advocates the foreign language: you like it and see value in it, I get it. However, as far as schooling is concerned, forcing it upon youths is absurd. Force feeding information that may or may not be useful in the future should be a decision they can make, at any point in their lives.

Some may enjoy it, while others (the majority, i’d say) will see it as a waste of time. I personally hated learning foreign language; slaving over lists of vocabulary words was utterly soul destroying.


nGon- June 5, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Couldn’t have said it better, seriously. All you need to know is English and the language you grew up with (if that wasn’t English). My parents learned French and German, only used it on vacation, never else. But the main thing that always gets me frustrated on people who say you have to learn a foreign language is that (at least for German and French) you actually have to learn it because they don’t speak English. Any country that says other countries should learn their language because they don’t want to learn English can go down the sh*tter to me. Not that I mean to say that if one’s German, French or Spanish they should go down the sh*tter bit rather that that country should make English a requirement rather than making their language a requirement in other countries. I also saw a video of a French politician who said that it would be a waste if France would learn more English and would mean cultural suicide or something along those lines and I went mad because those people can really commit suicide to me. I don’t hate people from foreign coutries or anything but I do hate some of the influences and crappy reasons why to learn a foreign language. Again, love the article and couldn’t have said it better.


kostas August 9, 2013 at 5:02 am

Hi to all,
I am Kostas 41 yo from Greece. My first attempt to learn Spanish was in 1996 (4 months), the second in 1998 (4 months) and finally the third one since last November till now. I have a love/hate relationship with Spanish. After so many years it has evolved to a real Vendetta (Revenge contract). It will be either me or it. One morning I get up and I practice Spanish all day but after a few days I do not want to hear about it. This language is very deceiving. It is very easy to read and write since it is a phonetic language, especially for me being Greek and having the same pronunciation. BUT it gets really, really HARD from intermediate level and above. Plus, I do not like Spanish music or movies at all. After all, maybe it would be wiser to quit trying. Spanish makes me so miserable, it is the ultimate dead end.


Carlos October 13, 2013 at 6:52 pm

This article is true, but only applies for native english speakers. For the rest of the world is useless to learn a language different to English. Native english speakers can learn a second language for pleasure, but other people are in need to learn it.


Paul April 6, 2014 at 5:39 pm

You are a dick, o lo que se dice en castellano; eres un gilipollas. I started learning Spanish 8 years ago and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done! And I haven’t lost it!!! You don’t have the right to discourage such a wonderful thing.


Darwin April 15, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Work on your English a bit more before praising your second language. How much money has that made you? How many other things could you have been doing with that time you spent learning another language? Hobby – great. Mandatory that our kids have to spend years in useless language classes when they could be honing science or business skills? stupidity


ᎡᏙᎯ May 31, 2014 at 3:52 pm

I very much enjoyed this post. I think that, although being bilingual was important for business in the past, it isn’t so much as necessary today in the international business world for English speakers.

I served as a volunteer missionary for two years in the area just north of Mexico City, as well as in some pueblos in Hidalgo and Querétaro. I studied Spanish for one hour every day, and on top of that was immersed in it. Luckily, for me, that has helped me to test out of Spanish since then. I also speak Cherokee.

However, I plan on becoming a lawyer. I feel that my language ability will help me to gain a broader base of clientele, just as any other language could. So I think your article makes sense, but I don’t think that it applies to all kinds of business. Then again, I’m still a university student.

A very well-written and well-thought post! It has definitely made me think!


Dave September 11, 2014 at 1:50 am

Up until only a few months ago, I would have agreed that it’s a waste of time as far as practicality to master a foreign language as an American. I took 4 years of French in high school but I quickly forgot it in college. I was an engineering major, and didn’t have time to keep up with it. But for my field, the jobs have begun shifting overseas. I just took a job in France for a government agency. It’s important to be fluent in the language of your host country and not have an atrocious accent. French is coming back to me very quickly. I start work in France in a few weeks.

I have a feeling that the job market for other fields will begin shifting overseas as well. Everybody who


Qwerty October 28, 2014 at 7:30 pm

The author is correct.

I even live in Taiwan and Chinese is almost useless. The official language here is Mandarin, but nobody will speak it to me. I can even speak and read Mandarin better than most of the Taiwanese can read and speak English. As a white person, the 50% of Taiwanese who can speak English simply refuse to speak Chinese to me, and will only speak English to me. (I must suffer through their poor English even though my Mandarin is better.) and the other half who don’t speak English simply don’t talk to me at all. They run away when I approach and get someone who speaks English. Telling them in Chinese that I can speak Chinese has little to no effect.

I’m also fluent in German, but everyone I’ve ever met who speaks German can also speak English at near a native level, due to learning it in school for about 16 years.

Even though other languages have next to zero practical purpose, for some reason I enjoy learning, and so I continue on…


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