One of the characteristics often found in the Old Money culture is the presence of a second language. (Note my reluctance to use the term ‘foreign language.’)
The value in learning and using a second language, especially for Americans who often live in an English-only world, is invaluable for numerous reasons.
Not only are there increased career opportunities for bilingual or multilingual employees and entrepreneurs: a new language enriches a person beyond measure. There’s the chance to not only communicate with a new demographic: there’s the chance to understand another culture. “Another language is another world,” so the saying goes.
There are also tangible psychological benefits. When you learn a new language, as I’m doing right now with Italian (still awful) and French (worse than awful), your brain is stimulated. You must listen. You must put an unfamiliar group of sounds and words into a logical context and make sense out of it. Doctors recommend learning a new language as you get older to improve and maintain mental health.
What’s more, as it scrambles your brain and you scramble to understand and respond in a new tongue, you become more humble, more patient, and more empathetic: you know how non-English-speaking immigrants coming to America must feel.
There are more shallow considerations. In even modestly elevated social circles in countries and cultures outside the United States, speaking only one language can instantly put you in a certain category of being, let’s say, a little provincial. For me, personally, it becomes embarrassing when I’m at a dinner table full of multilingual people and they’re all accommodating you by speaking only in English.
This motivates me even more to hit the Rosetta Stone, learn the verbs and vocabulary, and push on when it feels like the blood is going to ooze from my forehead if I have to think of another word in another language.
But, c’est la vie.