Are you considering learning another language but don’t know if you should? Are you unsure why you should learn a second or third language? Do you ever wonder what you might get out of it? Most of us know that learning a new language is not easy but that learning another language comes with many benefits.
The truth is that learning another language comes with lots of benefits. Real, tangible benefits in addition to intangible ones, such as opening your mind and expanding your cultural horizons. How does increasing your paycheck sound? It doesn’t get any more tangible than that! As a result, multilingual learners can make more money than those who aren’t and qualify for more positions.
There are different reasons why someone would ever learn another language. For instance, I had to learn English when my family moved to the United States. In my case, I had no option but to learn the language everyone else around me could speak. Other people choose to learn a language as a hobby. Whatever the reason, the next sessions describe some of the benefits of learning another language.
Keeps Your Mind Active
Keeping the mind active and engaged is a top priority for older adults today. Doing so has a world of benefits, up to and including reducing the risk of dementia and memory loss.
Learning anything new will keep your mind active and engaged. The act of learning causes increased cognitive activity and focused your mind no matter what the subject. This is why lifetime learning has become so popular among older adults. For this and other reasons, learning a language is uniquely beneficial. Speaking and using a language is a higher-order task that engages much of our brain activity. Learning to do this for a second language, especially as an adult, ups the mental processing power that the brain requires.
When you study a new language, you activate many processing centers in your brain at once -problem-solving abilities, memory storage and retrieval, language construction, concentration, multitasking, logical thinking, and critical thinking skills. On top of all this, if you have never studied a language before, you will be reactivating the language-learning centers of your brain, which have been out of use since childhood. So how does reversing decades of disuse sound for keeping your mind active?
These are all the benefits you get while actively studying the language. You continue to get these benefits when you use the language as well. If you’re going to learn a language, you’ll want to keep using it, so you don’t forget it.
Do all of these benefits disappear when you stop actively learning the language? Not. You will develop many new and improved skills that will stick around long-term. Among them are improved critical thinking and decision-making skills.
Multitasking skills also increase in people who’ve learned a second language. Flexibility and adaptability rise too. So do creativity and creative skills. So what does creativity have to do with learning another language? Good question. Researchers aren’t sure, but the benefit is there.
Better listening skills are another permanent benefit of learning a foreign language, as is the ability to monitor environmental changes. Memory skills improve, and processing speed increases. One of the most significant benefits is that people who learn a second language at any age show slower mental aging and less cognitive decline as they grow older than their monolingual peers. They are less likely to show symptoms of dementia too. How’s that for keeping your brain active?
Improves Your Memory
Another mental benefit of learning a language is significantly improving your memory. All of the mental and cognitive power required for language learning improves your cognitive skills in general, but this is especially the case for your memory because memory is one of the primary skills used when learning a language. Many of your cognitive processes work just like your physical muscles. When you perform a physical strength, it gets stronger. As with anything else, when you stop using a muscle, it gets weaker.
The same process applies to your memory. The more you use your memory skills, the stronger they will get. The less you use them, the weaker they will get. Language learning is one of the most memory-intensive processes you can participate in. It works your memory and makes it stronger. (Note: This assumes the absence of any disease process that would render memory work moot, such as dementia. The same thing applies to physical muscles; no amount of weightlifting will reverse a muscle-wasting disease either.)
Learning a language improves two aspects of your memory in particular: recall ability and recall speed.
Recall ability is just what it sounds like -recalling pieces of information. When learning a new language, you train your brain to remember lots of further information details, mostly vocabulary words and sentence construction. Studying a language doesn’t do any good if you can’t remember any of it!
The first few weeks of the intensive language study show a massive increase in the ability of participants to recall information. After that, the increase gradually levels off as the intensity slows down and the brain catches up to the tasks demanded of it. Recall speed is the time it takes you to recall a piece of information, typically measured in microseconds. The lower the number, the better. Recall speed decreases gradually during the first few weeks of intensive language classes as more information is stored, but then it speeds up when you get used to the new language.
These cognitive changes are echoed by physical ones -brain MRIs show that the number and density of connections between processing centers in the brain increase during this time as well. The improvement in recall speed and ability is directly correlated with the physical changes shown on the scans. If you want to improve your memory, there are a few better ways to do it than by learning a second language.
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Makes It Easier to Travel
Do you want to travel internationally? If so, knowing a target language will make it much easier to get around. We’re conditioned to think of English as the world’s default language these days, and in many cases, it’s true, but in many others, it’s not. If you travel out of the country, you’ll inevitably encounter people who don’t speak English or speak it only marginally. Some of these people may be in official positions, such as customs clerks, but some may just be working the front desk of your hotel when you arrive at check-in.
You’ll also inevitably encounter people out and about on the street you want to speak to who don’t speak English. Add in shopkeepers, restauranteurs, cab drivers, and anyone else you might have to speak to, and it makes a lot of sense to learn the local language before you leave on your trip. You don’t need to strive for fluency or even a conversational level of language learning to make a difference. If you focus on a few key things such as phrases you’re likely to hear and things you need to know, your trip will go much easier.
Examples of the things you’ll want to learn are asking where the bathroom is, requesting the check, ordering food, and asking if anyone speaks English. Just a little knowledge will help you get around, and allow you to use a translation dictionary more effectively.
Which language should you learn if you plan to take this route? Well, if you know where you’re going, the most common local language is the best choice. Are you going to France or Canada? French is the obvious choice. Japan? Pick up some Japanese.
If you don’t know where you’re going yet, try to pick a language widely used across the area (Spanish is spoken across most of Latin America, for instance) and focus on that. You’ll quickly find that any second language is better than none when you’re out of the country. Most European languages are similar, for example, and in a pinch, three-way translators are easy to find in most countries.
Language skills will also make it easier for you to travel domestically. Getting around in Little Havana and Little Mexico is hard without speaking Spanish. You can get around Chinatown without speaking Chinese, but it would help. There are some ways that traveling abroad can help you learn another language. Take advantage of traveling to learn a language and culture!
Improves Your Social Life
You may be wondering how learning a language can improve your social life. It does so in several ways, each adding to and reinforcing one another. First, it allows you to meet new people -this is true both in your home town and when you travel. How will you talk to someone if you don’t speak their language? You’ll make many new friends and get to know many new people just by learning a second language.
You might not think this will happen right now, but you probably haven’t noticed how many people around you speak another language. Once you start paying attention, you’ll be surprised how much your world expands. It allows you to attend more events -Many events are held in other languages. Others are held in different languages, and if you speak the language in question, you can attend the event and have a better time.
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Examples of events where speaking another language come in handy include festivals, fairs, church services, holidays, fundraisers, and even farmer’s markets. There are places in every town where everything or almost everything is in another language, and you won’t be able to navigate without speaking it. For example, if you ever go to Miami, you’ll find various enclaves where everything is in Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, Portuguese, or even Dutch. You must understand the language to navigate, much less attend an event. The same will be true of some places in your hometown.
People will seek you out -once you become known as the bilingual person in your circle, people will start seeking you out to get to know you and ask for your help translating things. If you become fluent in the language, you can even offer translation services for a fee. Of course, people who speak that language will be happy to hear you do, too, and will look for you to converse in that language. Some will be native speakers, others second language speakers like yourself.
Your friends, family, and colleagues will all want you to translate menus, news reports, and conversations for them. It might even happen often enough that you’ll get tired of it. Together, these three benefits will vastly improve your social life. So pick a language and start learning it today for a better social life.
Boosts Your Confidence
Learning a language is a great way to go about it if you’re looking for a way to boost your confidence. This might initially sound counterintuitive since language learning is full of mistakes. Sometimes you may embarrass yourself learning a language, and we also know it requires a significant investment of time.
Learning a new language won’t give you an instant confidence boost, it’s true, but the best and longest-lasting increases in confidence come over time. Trying to learn a new language requires a lot of hard work. It also involves failure. A lot of losses. That means developing the courage to try again when you fail and to do so repeatedly. However, as you learn more and more of the language, you’ll feel accomplished.
Remember that being persistent increases confidence. Furthermore, learning a language means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It means putting yourself out there and risking being embarrassed to learn and grow. All of this leads to more confidence in the long run. This is true even if you do embarrass yourself -which you will. It’s an inevitable part of the language learning process. Everyone does it. There are no exceptions. No matter how well you think you’ve learned the language or even how many other languages you’ve learned, when you get out there and start talking to other people, you’ll make mistakes, some of which will be embarrassing.
Not giving up increases your stamina and fortitude. So, naturally, that also increases your confidence. This willingness to try, to grow, to push, and to try and try again is what builds a person’s confidence over the long run. Sure, there are ways to increase your confidence temporarily in the meantime. There are entire books discussing ways to increase your confidence at essential moments.
But if you want to do it over the long term -if you want real, permanent, increases in your confidence -you have to attempt to do something hard, fail at it, and attempt it again. Learning a language is one of the best things you can choose for this role because it is always difficult and gives you a feeling of accomplishment and other tangible benefits when you do succeed.
Perhaps the most tangible benefit of learning a language is that it can significantly increase your paycheck. If that sounds wild, it isn’t. We live in an increasingly interconnected global world, and people who can communicate in more than one language are in high demand.
Multiple studies have shown that simply being bilingual can increase your salary by anywhere from 10-20%! This is the case even if you work in an industry and a job where being bilingual isn’t a requirement. This is simply an addition to your paycheck many employers will give you just for knowing another language.
Employers need employees who can converse in more than one language and support their operations in multiple environments. It’s cheaper to pay one person who can speak two languages than to hire two people, one for each language. That’s why employers are willing to pay a premium for bilingual employees.
Furthermore, being bilingual opens up more opportunities. Many jobs require the holder to be bilingual -either because of travel requirements or because the company’s customers speak more than one language. The ability to translate is a significant part of these jobs.
If you aren’t bilingual, you can’t apply for these positions at all. These positions always pay even more of a premium because they require a second language. The companies have to pay more to attract qualified applicants in such a tight labor market. How’s that for a tangible benefit from learning a second language?
Perhaps you’re convinced of the benefits now and want to learn another language for work purposes. Which language should you choose? That’s going to depend a lot on your industry. Look around and see which foreign languages are most commonly used in your profession.
If there isn’t a primary language you can identify, choose one of the ones identified as being most valuable in the workplace. The top two right now are Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Mandarin speakers are in high demand worldwide.
Beyond those two, French, German, and Japanese are valuable choices. Two others that can benefit you greatly if you’re in the right location are Arabic or Hindi. Over half a billion people speak the latter. If you already speak a European language in addition to English, look at an Asian language, and vice versa. There aren’t many skills you can learn that will give you a return on investment at work like learning a foreign language!
A bigger paycheck might not impress you if you’re retired, but improving your memory and keeping your brain active might. Both of these are documented benefits of learning languages. These benefits apply to everyone, but older adults reap the majority of the windfall. Other benefits include making it easier to travel internationally (or even domestically) and improving your social life. Learning to speak a second language boosts your confidence. These benefits, as impressive as they are, constitute only a small fraction of the benefits you’ll get when you learn a new language.
Remember that all of these benefits apply to learning any language. There is no “better” language to learn than any other when it comes to getting these benefits, however some languages might come with different benefits. The best language to learn there depends on your location and industry. Aside from that, learn whichever language you find most interesting. Do you want to be practical? Study Spanish or Chinese. Do you want to visit France? French it is. It’s your choice! Those things are nice, of course, but learning a language involves a significant investment of time and sometimes money and it’s only natural to ask what the return will be.
What language are you learning or want to learn!? Share in the comments…
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