Learning a Language

I was thinking this morning about how important learning a second language is to good scholarship. It hit me because I was not required to learn a second language for my undergrad, I wish I had been. My chosen historical specialty is 18th & 19th century Prussian history. It is kind of hard to see how I could do any really good research without learning German and maybe French. Luckily, I am married to a German woman and had no choice but to learn German if I want to talk to any of my in-laws since most of them don’t speak a lick of English. How could I expect them too since they all live in Germany?
Learning German has stood me in good stead the longer I have been studying history and especially in conducting research for my thesis. I have made several trips to archives in Germany and Austria conducting research for my thesis and these trips would have been completely wasted with no knowledge of German. I probably would not have made them in the first place.
I will say that my wife has been an invaluable help here as well because I have some problems when it comes to translating old German and she has helped me out considerably. That being said, knowing German has let me make a start and allowed me to read original documents that would be inaccessible to a non-German speaker. There is not a lot of call for translations of 150 year old documents relating to a war that most English speakers have never heard of.
I will end this post by saying that anybody wanting to be a serious student of history should seriously consider learning a 2nd language if not eventually a 3rd or 4th. I currently know German and some Latin and I plan on polishing up my Latin and eventually trying to learn French and maybe Russian. My knowledge of German has made it clear to me that I cannot always rely on the translations of others because no two translations are always the same.