Let's take a walk down memory lane. Around the turn of the last century, it was common to learn Latin and Greek. When Russia began its space program in the 50s, there was a growth in? You guessed it! Russian! In the 80s, there was an increase in business with the Japanese and people started learning Japanese and now, we are seeing an increase in Chinese programs and Arabic because we realize that we need to be communicating in these languages to trade and secure our world.
But why now? Can't the rest of the world can just talk to us in English? It's true that people are learning English all around the world so that they can trade effectively, but when you speak the language of your client, the ball is in your court.
I have fun with my language colleagues when we think about the old days of language learning when it was all about memorizing silly dialogs. Wherever IS that library in Paris I prepared to visit for four years of French and why didn't they have the exact sweater I described in that tiny shop in Madrid? Hmmmm....
Now we know that in language classes, people have to speak languages and they need to talk about things that matter to them. Grammar is just a tool and you use it to speak coherently and with precision, but as soon as you can link the words together in some kind of reasonable way, you are speaking. The first time you do this with a native speaker of the language who wouldn't have understood you otherwise, it's like first contact and you never want to turn back.
Some of my best friends on the planet speak languages other than English as a first language. That's not to say that I don't have American friends, but it says that some really cool people were waiting for me on the other side of the language barrier once I was able to leap over it!
Everyone is talking about the new world of the 21st Century and why the planet is now flat. Lots of divisions which would formerly keep "those other people" away are gone. What was once "far" is now close by and the people who lived on the other side of the planet may well be our future project collaborators! It's happening in every field.
So what do you do if you want to learn to communicate in a new language? The programs available online and for the computer are a good help, but you should quickly get into the realm of real communication to make this language thing come alive. Nowadays this can mean social networking and community education as well as vibrant classrooms led by teacher facilitators everywhere.
We've learned a lot about language teaching and learning over the past decades. Great research information can be found online on the site of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. You can become more of a language expert by reading research, listening to pod casts or taking a fun quiz where you can see if you "know more than a language teacher" ( www.actfl.com )
Most of all, you have to begin to believe that language learning is for you. I invite you to Discover Languages and by so doing, you'll discover the world!