There are so many benefits to learning languages that it’s a wonder the whole world isn’t bilingual by choice (actually, bilinguals outnumber monolinguals on a global scale). That’s because you have nothing to lose when you take on a new language and almost everything to gain. From monetary benefits to enhanced cognitive function, memory and social skills, language learning is worth its weight in gold no matter what age you are when you start, which language you chose to learn or how successful you are at achieving fluency.
And why is language so powerful? Because it changes you. It both physically alters your brain and opens up your mind to new experiences and a fresh way of seeing the world. Foreign languages are also the key to communicating with people from all over the world, which makes them valuble in both business and academic environments.
The advantages of learning foreign languages range from warding off Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain diseases to making you a memory superstar. Learning a language is like taking your brain to the gym, a mental gym that is. You’re not only teaching it how to hear new sounds, read new letters and recognize new words, but you are filling it full of new information and creating a separate network that is both redundant and diverse from your first language.
This means you have access to more ways of thinking, processing and putting language together to express yourself, which will come in very handy if you experience a brain related injury resulting in aphasia. When you learn a language you are also making your brain stronger in terms of processing time.
Have you ever considered what grammar really is? It’s a series of patterns that help to organize language and when you learn grammar you are picking up on these patterns, internalizing them and then reproducing them. That’s a lot of mental maneuvering!
Learning vocabulary entails storing new information in short term memory, moving it over for long term memory storage and then accessing it. Overtime your brain becomes very efficient at this process and can apply similar skills to remembering just about anything you find you need to know. Languages thus make you sharper on the job and give you the advantage of always thinking a step ahead.
Foreign languages = more jobs = more money. If you learn another language you may have access to twice as many jobs. In addition, employers like to hire people who speak languages because it says a lot about their openness to international positions, ability to tackle a challenging task, communicative and creative skills.
This is especially true for certain “hard to learn” languages like Japanese, Arabic and Russian. If you learn one of these languages people will recognize that you don’t shy away from a challenge and this can be something that’s particularly valuable on a CV or application to graduate school.
Languages also give you an edge over colleagues if you are competing for a position or looking to be successful in an international market in which being bilingual is a crucial factor in determining your company’s success.
You can’t really rush through learning a language. Well you can, but it’s not effective or practical. Language learning is something that becomes part of your daily routine — for life! It forces you to take time out of a packed schedule to look up new words (define vs. smell the roses, or in this case sunflowers) and to consider how you might say or describe the world around you in your new language. This means you have to use your powers of observation to concentrate on the little things: telling someone how you’d like your coffee, asking the waiter for the check, politely greeting someone with a salutation that makes them smile.
Language learning creates a little space in your day for you to learn new things and stay in touch with the world. You are essentially re-learning everything with a new set of labels. It also keeps you motivated and on track to achieving new levels of fluency, not to mention preventing you from wasting time with passive activities that can leave you feeling depressed and unhappy .
If you speak another language, you also have so many more people to spend time with and more holidays and events to celebrate. This means your social calendar is likely to get a big boost!
What could be better than understanding what people are saying to you in a foreign country? You can read the signs, navigate local transportation, ask for directions and order your steak cooked to perfection. You’re also much less of a target for getting scammed and can spend less time worrying about the mechanics of traveling and more time taking in the sights.
The advantages of learning languages are most evident when you are on holiday as you truly have a chance to show off what you’ve learned and make the most of your new tongue. You’ll be able to meet new people and have cultural experiences that would be entirely impossible without language skills.
Lastly, being on vacation means entering a target language rich environment of immersion. If you have some language skills already, you’re likely to pick up on new words and extract slang from your travels. The benefits of expanding your spoken language repertoire with native speaker phrases are immeasurable.
Language helps you be more social and creative. The process of becoming fluent teaches you to see the world in new ways, express yourself in novel fashions and focus on communication. It can be truly freeing to take on a language because you’ll feel good about yourself as you make progress. Dedication pays off in positive emotions and a breath of fresh air when you realize you are even dreaming in your new tongue!
How to learn a language
You know the many benefits of learning languages, so how do you go about getting started?
First you have to decide which language you’d like to learn. It might be a language you started studying in high school and would like to pick back up (learn more about reviving seemingly forgotten language in this post). Alternatively, you may decide on a brand new language which will help you with your job or prepare you for upcoming travels.
Now it’s time to set realistic goals. How much time can you dedicate to your language? What do you hope to achieve? Will you practice regularly? What skills are you most interested in mastering (reading, speaking, writing, listening)?
Do your research and ensure you have all of the tools you need to be successful. There are plenty of free apps (Lingua.ly included) so there’s no excuse for not having a dictionary, flashcard maker and practice game at the ready.
Keep in mind you’ll need plenty of motivation to keep you going as you battle your way through the first few months of language study (it will get easier– we promise!).
Making friends or language exchange partners can be a fantastic way of keeping yourself motivated and ensuring you have small communicative wins every day. A word or two of encouragement from a native speaker or language tutor goes a long way!
What benefits have you experienced from learning a foreign language? Share your experience in the comments.