It is estimated that between 60 and 75 percent of the world’s population speaks more than two languages. Several countries even have multiple official languages. So why in the UKdo we see learning languages as something that only some people can or should do?
Take a moment to think about your secondary school language lessons. All those verb conjugations, the endless grammar tables… and all to pass an exam or speak a few sentences on holiday. So many of us leave school and never use that language again, letting it slowly fade into nothing. Learning a foreign language is hard. No-one is denying that.
But learning a language in the real world is so much more than verb tables and grammatical rules, and it has so many more advantages than impressing a waiter or two on a summer holiday.
1. Broaden your perspective.
Against a backdrop of increasing intolerance towards other cultures the world over, it is more important than ever to educate ourselves about the world outside our homes. When you learn another language, you simultaneously unlock knowledge about a whole new area of the world – a whole new way of living. You will learn to view differences from the other side of the fence and to stop falling back on frail stereotypes by speaking to native speakers and asking questions, often decreasing internalised xenophobia or racism. Studies have also proven that multilingualism is linked to being able to acknowledge opposing points of view and encompass a more flexible world-view.
What’s more, you’ll learn more about your culture – from an outsider’s perspective. Have you ever wondered how other countries view British tourists or the British education system? Do they really think we all drink tea? How do families in other parts of the world view Brexit, or Trump? Now you can find out.
2. Change the way you think.
You learn not only to speak another way but to think another way; studies have shown that thinking about a problem in another language can help you to be more rational, instead of emotional. Want to get a little closer to thinking like Sherlock? Here’s your chance.
You will also become a better learner in many ways because the more languages you learn, the better you will get at learning another one.
3. Stay mentally healthy.
Aside from improving your thinking skills in the present, being bilingual may help you stay mentally healthy in the future. Several studies have suggested that the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s for people who speak more than language is delayed by around 4.5 years. This is likely because switching frequently between languages is a form of cognitive multitasking.
Bilingualism is also linked to a better memory; although those verb tables might be a struggle to start with, you will gradually get better at better at remembering their sequences, and even at remembering lists which have nothing to do with languages at all.
4. Boost your employability.
There is quite literally no way that learning a language could harm your chances of getting that dream job.
In a world which is changing and growing quickly, more and more companies are looking to expand their business outside of their home country. They can’t do that without languages – and they will always do better if the person who has to do the translation is part of their own team. In a recent survey, two-thirds of companies in the UK said they needed foreign languages. If they have to rely on the foreign company for translations, they are also more dependent on that company for the accurate communication and negotiation of their needs.
Even if your job doesn’t require languages, you can boast of the other skills that you have acquired in the process – including greater intercultural awareness, new ways of tackling problems, higher critical thinking skills, and a stronger awareness of how we use language.
5. Make new friends and international connections.
With another language under your belt, you’ll be able to speak to so many more people that you would never have been able to converse with before. Even in your day-to-day life – sitting at a bus stop and hearing two people strike up a conversation in Spanish, or ordering at a restaurant where the waiters come from another country – you will have more opportunities to listen, to reach out, to make a connection. Watch as your friendships extend out of your local area and begin to form across the world. After all, don’t forget that learning a language means you will be able to speak to people from more than one foreign country: Spanish, for example, is spoken not just in Spain but in many Latin American countries and in many communities in the US.
6. Make life more fun.
If the practical reasons aren’t your cup of tea, never fear. There’s plenty of ways that learning languages can make your life more fun on a daily basis. Want to talk to your friend without anyone else around you understanding? Learn a language together and switch languages whenever you want to have a private conversation!
Want more choices for films and TV series on Netflix, without having to rely on dubbing or subtitles? Learn a language and see what you’ve been missing!
If you learn a second language, you also get two versions of the internet. Twice the number of people you can interact with online, twice the number of news articles you can understand… and twice the number of memes!
7. A great excuse to go on holiday 😉
If you need an excuse to get abroad, learning a language is the one for you. The books will only get you so far; when you learn a language, the best way to learn is to go and speak it with native speakers. Learning a language also opens up new opportunities abroad, like au pairing – you can stay with a host family (free accommodation!), go to events you’d never had heard of before, and speak to people who wouldn’t have been able to communicate with you previously. Not to mention the gratifying look of surprise on their face when you reveal you can speak their language!
If you’re not convinced yet, a quick google will reveal more reasons that I couldn’t fit into this article. The list really is endless.
And if you are convinced, why not start your language learning journey this year? Sign up for Duolingo, find a foreign conversation partner, start watching your favourite series with foreign subtitles… Whatever you do, don’t put it off any longer. You will thank me for it. I promise.
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