The Importance of Knowing a Foreign Language (or Two)

Hannibal Barca (247 BCE – 181 BCE)

Hannibal Barca (247 BCE – 181 BCE)

As students we were often told to learn another language but the advice may have seemed hollow. What is the point? Well yes, it would be nice to be able to chat with the French waiter about the menu or understand what is said about you in another language, but is it really necessary to understand the deeper meaning of another language such as the history behind Russian literature or the philosophical meaning of a Latin verse? Surely this is nothing more than instructors being overzealous. Why do we need to know that other language beyond just conversational aptitude?

Actually, there is one very important reason…

One example of someone who spoke and understood the meaning of language was Hannibal. No, I am not referring to the villain from Silence of the Lambs. I am talking about the Hannibal who crossed the Alps in 218 B.C. That Hannibal led an army of soldiers who spoke Phoenician, Greek, Celtic, Latin, and many other languages. Hannibal not only spoke their languages, but also understood the history, the philosophy and the culture behind them. In doing so, he understood what those soldiers wanted, what drove them, and for what they were willing to die.

In popular culture, Hannibal will be remembered primarily for crossing the Alps. However, his greatest achievement was that he united all the enemies of Rome and campaigned for more than a decade on Roman soil, without ever being defeated on the battlefield, and primarily using non-Carthaginian mercenaries. That required the language skills of a great leader, an ability that not even Alexander possessed.

We may not need to lead an army, but knowing the wants of those around us, what drives them, and what they will sacrifice, can give us a significant advantage in any environment. Learning another language thoroughly teaches that critical skill. So, while it will also come in handy to impress your date at that French restaurant, the real value is the introspection that is gained from understanding the deeper meaning behind that foreign language.

Whether you are an employee looking to stand out, a Gigster competing for a lucrative contract, or a manager in a position to hire others, look for this skill in building your team. It will likely be far more valuable than another checkbox on a resume.

This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.
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