Internet Self Improvement

4 Hidden Benefits Of Learning A Foreign Language If You Are A Geek

Matthew Hughes 01-05-2014

When you’re an Anglophone geek, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that you don’t have to learn a foreign language. After all, nearly every piece of software comes with an English localization. Most programming languages use English words and phrases. Indeed, English is overwhelmingly the language of the Internet.


And yet, there’s never been a better reason and a better time to learn a foreign language. We’ve talked about ways in which you can learn a language over the Internet Duolingo Gives A Fillip To Free Language Learning With Crowdsourced Lessons Duolingo has launched a new initiative that aims to crowdsource new lessons and new languages with the help of the website’s growing community of ten million and counting. Read More , but we’ve not really talked about the benefits learning a new language can deliver to a geek. Indeed, there are many riches to be had.

Your Job Opportunities Improve. Drastically

A few years back, I took the drastic step to drop everything, leave my life in England and move to Switzerland. I found a job in a technology company in French speaking Switzerland, where I worked alongside English, French, and Spanish speakers.

Possessing a conversational degree of fluency in these languages helped me endlessly. I was able to culturally fit in, and engage in conversations about the challenging technological problems we faced on a daily basis.


I couldn’t have coped in that job without my language skills. And indeed, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it if I didn’t know how to converse in French. Perhaps that’s the most major advantage of learning a foreign language. The places where you can work open up exponentially.


Not convinced? Just look at this site. We’re a stunning example of this, as we employ a lot of talented, technologically minded people, many of whom do not speak English as their first language.

Obscure Programming Libraries Become A Bit More Useful

So, you’ve got a challenging coding program. You look around to see if anyone has faced your problem in the past, and it turns out someone has! Even better, they created a library for your favorite language!

You download it, and head immediately to the documentation. And… It’s all in Japanese. You don’t speak Japanese.



This has happened to me in the past. In the end, I had to delve through the library’s code How To View & Edit The Source Code Of An Open-Source App While going open source might be a good choice, you'll also need to invest in the right community. GitHub is one of the best places to do this, not only because of the sheer amount... Read More , working out how it works by reading each function declaration. Each class.

Whilst it’s not feasible to know every language ever, having a command of a foreign language can be a huge benefit to any software developer. Especially one who works with open-source, community built libraries.

You Can Learn From Foreign Language Speaking Experts

Last year, I was working on a simple video game. I was using the challenging C programming language, along with the SDL graphics and sound library. Not many people use SDL as a stand-alone library for making video games. It’s just… too tedious.

As a result, there are not many tutorials or guides for this language and library combo. Late one night, I was searching YouTube and I came across this video.


It was an entire course for C and SDL. It was free. And it was good.

Even though it was in French, I was still able to follow what was going on, and apply it to my project. It’s not just programming either. Whatever you are interested in, be it gaming or photography, being able to speak a foreign language drastically increases the amount of people you can learn from. That can’t be anything but a good thing, right?

Got Something To Say? Say It To More People.

So, if you have a Twitter account or a blog, you might have noticed that you’ve curated a following 4 Methods To Curate Your Way To An Internet Following With the amount of information online, it often becomes hard to cut through all the noise and get straight to the stuff that you're interested in. If you want to generate relevant content online and... Read More of people who hang on every word you say. The reason why you have this following is because you speak in a language they understand.



Why limit yourself? By speaking a foreign language, you can address a larger audience. You can influence more people. You can engage in lively debates and discussions with more people than you could previously have even imagined.


Speaking a foreign language is incredibly empowering. It’s never too late to learn with the tools we have. The Web makes it so easy with immersive language learning How To Use Chrome To Learn A Foreign Language While Browsing The Web One of the more natural ways to learn anything is to immerse oneself in that environment. In fact, if you stay in a foreign country for any length of time, you naturally pick up some... Read More . Indeed, I know many people who started learning their first language in their late twenties. When you do gain some fluency, you will immediately see the benefits of being multilingual.

Do you speak a foreign language? Tell me about it in the comments below. You can use French, Spanish or English. I’m really not that fussy.

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  1. rob
    May 28, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    Nope, but I certainly will! I've always been tempted by the 'full immersion' approach, such as on 'FluentIn3Months', but will take a look @ Michel Tomas!

  2. rob
    May 28, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    I'd love to learn a language to a degree that I could easily understand their news sources to see what they think, and are taught about, the rest of the world :)

    • Matthew H
      May 28, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      Aye, it's hugely eye-opening. Have you heard of the Michel Thomas method? It really works, and focuses on listening and speaking before anything else. You should check it out.

  3. Hank
    May 8, 2014 at 6:51 am

    Learning a foreign language is great interest of mine. Been learning Italian. It's a great language and I really like native Italian speakers talking when they hang out for conversation. Thanks.
    [Broken URL Removed]

    • Matthew H
      May 28, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      Buono! Grazie per il tuo commento!

  4. Vipul J
    May 2, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Coincidentally, today itself I have started my long procrastinated task of learning French.
    I learned how to introduce myself 10 years ago but never studied ahead.
    Today I came across this app, Duolingo.
    And within a day I can form simple sentences like I am a boy, girl etc and general pronouns.
    If someone is interested in learning another language, you should give it a try!

    • A41202813GMAIL
      May 3, 2014 at 3:56 am

      DUOLINGO.COM Approach To OnLine Teaching Is Really Hard To Beat.

      I Hope DUOLINGO Becomes A Trend In All OnLine Education Sites, Independently Of The Subject Being Taught.

      Assuming ( A ) The Input Language, And ( B ) The Output Language, DUOLINGO Has 27 Possible Combinations Of ( A ) To ( B ).

      The Way DUOLINGO Teaches Normal Languages Should Be Copied By Computer Languages Teaching Sites, Because Its Powerful Approach Could Be A Huge Opportunity For Millions.


    • Matthew H
      May 26, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      Bonne chance! French is my second language. It's also my favorite. Best of luck with it!

  5. kashu
    May 2, 2014 at 8:35 am

    ruby?????????????(It's Chinese)!

    • Matthew H
      May 2, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      I know. I just used that screengrab to illustrate a point.

  6. Daniel H
    May 2, 2014 at 2:15 am

    "coding program" should be "coding problem", I think. And seriously. That's Chinese, not Japanese. Would save you some embarrassment to have some basic proficiency in either, which demonstrates your point...

    • Matthew H
      May 2, 2014 at 12:54 pm

      To be fair, I was just illustrating a point. And yep, that's a typo. Will fix that ASAP. Cheers for spotting it!

  7. Janet
    May 2, 2014 at 12:46 am

    Unfortunately some universities in the US are proposing to eliminate the language requirement for computer science majors. Instead their WL credit will be satisfied with computer language courses.

    • dragonmouth
      May 2, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      The only foreign language necessary in the US is Spanish since it is unofficially the second official language of the country.

    • Matthew H
      May 2, 2014 at 12:55 pm

      To be fair, there's a pretty sizable population of French speakers in Maine and Vermont. And you also share a border with 10 million French speakers in the North. ;)

      Languages are cool, yo. ;)

  8. Uschi
    May 1, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    This might apply in Europe (and I'm sure it does) but here in Australia it has no benefit whatsoever, unless it's Asian languages and you want to work in government departments. Having grown up in Europe and speaking 4 or 5 languages reasonably well plus a smattering of others has not given me any advantages here in over 30 years. There are however other advantages in speaking and learning other languages, like a better understanding of grammar and spellinq, as well as a mental flexibility that helps in all life situations, not the least in programming and the like.

    • Matthew H
      May 26, 2014 at 10:17 pm

      Eh. I live in England where you can get by without speaking a foreign language. But, it's awesome being able to travel somewhere and speak the local tongue!

      Are Asian languages taught in Australian schools?

    • Uschi
      May 26, 2014 at 10:36 pm

      They do teach mainly Chinese in the schools here, but unless you make it one of your main subjects it's only about an hour a week and not enough to be of any use. Generally everybody here thinks people should speak English (and best not with a funny accent like British or American ;-) ).

  9. Todd L
    May 1, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    Anyway, that said...

    I'm not fluent enough in any other tongue to do translation, but my Spanish and French are good enough to be useful (for example, the Parisian sign above gives me no trouble at all).

    What helps me the most professionally, though, is knowing enough "metadata" about a lot of languages to understand some of the gotchas involved in internationalization/localization. Yes, there are people who know that there are right-to-left languages, but rarely do they account for, say, diacritical marks. Even more rarely are they aware of anomalies like the upper-case dotted i and lower-case undotted i in Turkish.

    There really is a reason you should not use ToUpper() when doing string comparisons, folks!

    • Matthew H
      May 26, 2014 at 10:18 pm

      Awesome comment! I'm curious as to what you mean by Metadata though. Can you give me some examples?

    • Todd Libasci
      May 26, 2014 at 11:14 pm

      Information /about/ languages. The obvious example would be right-to-left langauges, and my personal favorite is the example of Turkish that I gave about. Variations in alphabets, like the ß in German and the bazillion diacritical marks in, say, Polish. The fact that Ukrainian has a letter I but Russian does not. Odd grammatical features, e.g., the agglutinative nature of German and Turkish. Quirky differences in pronunciation between Spanish and Portuguese. That many cultures use a comma in a number where we use a decimal point, and vice-versa. That in India (well, I know this from a Tamil speaker, don't know if it's universal) large numbers are written with digits separated into groups of two, not three as we do (e.g., 10,00,00,00,00 vs 1,000,000,000).

      The upshot of all this being that if you write code with anything user-facing (GUI, error strings, etc.) and your language provides culture-sensitive APIs, use them. For example, I work in C# and String.Format() used on a number defaults to (I believe) a culturally-aware conversion. If that's what you want, fine; but you can also specify CultureInfo.CurrentCulture or CultureInfo.InvariantCulture. There are similar scenarios involving comparisons, in which different languages sort differently and you may or may not want the local behavior.

    • Todd Libasci
      May 26, 2014 at 11:14 pm

      Ooops - "Turkish that I gave about" should read "Turkish that I gave above". Speaking of language, huh? ;-)

  10. Todd L
    May 1, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    That's Chinese, BTW, not Japanese. I'd have expected Japanese too, given that it's Ruby, but it's not.

    • Matthew H
      May 1, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      I know. I just used it as an illustration. ;) The actual library I had in mind when I was writing this piece was a ruby XML/HTML parsing one. I've not been able to find it since, which is annoying.

  11. Maarten D
    May 1, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    We learn 4 languages in school. Yet we have a high workless rate.
    Nous apprenons quatre langues en école. Nous avons une grand chiffre de chômage quand même
    Wij leren 4 talen op school. Maar toch hebben we een hoog werkloosheidscijfer.
    Ich sprache ein bischen Deutsch, aber ich weisse nicht wie men die Tingen hier schreibt.

    And no, there wasn't a thing like google translatie involved.

    • Seppe
      May 1, 2014 at 8:49 pm

      knowing 4 languages definitely helps finding a Job, also in Belgium :)

    • Matthew H
      May 1, 2014 at 8:51 pm

      God, Belgium is awesome. I'm actually visiting in the next couple of months. Crazy excited about that.

      In the UK, having a second language is pretty much unheard of. In my school, 4 people out of 300 studied a foreign language. That's a rate of just under 2%!

    • Maarten D
      May 1, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      Seppe, indeed. Just saying that our numbers aren't the best out there. But definitely not the worst too.

      Matt: great! Don't forget the Belgian waffles and chocolate! Where are you going to stay? And what will you do here? If you want some information about Belgium and stuff, you can always contact me. You got my Twitter, (@s_martie1)so that shouldn't be a problem.