COMING from an English-speaking school, when I had the choice to either sit for PMR Chinese or take the simplified intermediate course, I chose the latter. Back then, my naive self believed that as long as I could order my food at my favourite kopitiams, I was good.

Boy was I wrong.

Last fall, I started my tertiary education here at Brown University (and if you’re wondering, yes, Emma Watson is still here), where many students take up a third, fourth or even fifth language! Just imagine the shock and embarrassment I faced when Americans started firing intricate Chinese proverbs my way – and in perfect Beijing accents, too!


In Malaysia, a lot less priority is placed on learning foreign languages because on top of having to master Malay and English, many of us have to fulfil vernacular requirements in Tamil, Mandarin or Jawi. Juggling all that is no simple feat, so it’s easy to see why one or the other eventually takes a back seat.

In an attempt to redeem myself, I started learning Korean, and even signed up for some advanced Mandarin lessons. This decision has opened up doors in a way I would have never imagined.

Just for your benefit, I’ve rounded up some of the perks I’ve found of being a polyglot:

Academic benefits
The tireless memorisation of grammar rules and vocabulary that learning a language entails challenges the brain, strengthens mental muscles and consequently improves overall memory. Switching between multiple speech systems also boosts multi-tasking abilities. In fact, data from the Admissions Testing Program by the College Board in the United States has shown a positive correlation between the study of a foreign language and Standardised Testing scores.

Career opportunities
Proficiency in a foreign language enables one to thrive in a culturally diverse environment, which makes one a more competitive and marketable job seeker. Whether you hope to be a doctor, lawyer, architect, businessperson, hotel manager or whatever it is, fluency in a foreign language multiplies your chances for success in finding a new job, scoring an overseas transfer or getting a promotion.

Cultural immersion
Ever wanted to study in Paris but couldn’t because you didn’t know French? Learning a foreign language allows one to pursue academic interests in places where the language of instruction is not English. It allows one to venture beyond tourist traps, which both enriches and liberalises one’s experiences. By expanding one’s view of the world, foreign language study helps cultivate an appreciation of cultural pluralism. Plus, language and culture are inextricably linked – the more you learn a foreign language, the more you understand of the culture which it originated from.

So, if you’re thinking of dropping your language course, think again! It might just change the course of your future.

The writer is a member of The Star’s BRATs young journalist programme. For more info, and to follow their stories and assignments, like them on Facebook at

As I witnessed adults here resolutely attempting to master multiple languages, I came to the embarrassing realisation that back when I was 15, I had thrown a perfectly good opportunity away. I mean, even my weekly Malay classes here have attracted a fair amount of language enthusiasts.


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