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What can learning a new language do for you?

Learning a new language can be hard. No one could deny that. The moments of frustration are not hard to come by. You may find yourself ready to give up more often than you’d like to admit. And yet, there is always a silver lining.

Why should you not abandon your studies? Or rather, why should you pursue bi- and multilingualism as much as you possibly can? Because the benefits of learning a new language greatly outweigh the temporary difficulties! Here are seven (of many!) positive effects of learning a new language — seven reasons for you to stick with it.

  1. Give your brain a workout
    • Psycholinguists have determined that speaking more than one language gives our brain an excellent workout. Monolinguals are typically outperformed by speakers of multiple languages in a number of cognitive tasks. Any time you speak a non-native language, and even more so if you speak more than two languages, your brain is working hard to keep out the languages you are not using at the moment. How often do you have a moment while speaking your third language when words of your second language seem to sneak in? This is because your brain has a very different and deeper knowledge of your native language, and so it will never get confused while speaking your first language. Your additional languages, however, seem to come to your brain in order of which one you know best. That is to say, if you speak French fairly well, but you have a beginner’s knowledge of Spanish, when you try to speak Spanish, it is very likely that your brain will occasionally offer up some French vocabulary (but never English) subconsciously. Imagine the cognitive task your brain is constantly doing, sorting through and categorizing which are the right words to use at the right time!
  2. Offset the detrimental effects of aging
    • Because of the positive effects learning a language has on your cognitive functioning, the long-term abilities of your brain will be affected by your multilingualism. It has been proven that symptoms of dementia, which typically affect one in three elderly adults, are set off by about five years in people who speak multiple languages. So if you speak more than one language, you will not only improve the quality of your life now, but your future self will thank you too! We may not be able to stop the aging process, but if we can put off some of its harmful effects, why not do what we can to make that happen?
  3. Develop a second personality
    • Many multilingual people attest that they feel like a different person when they speak their second or third language. Sounds impossible? Sure, it could just be some first-hand accounts — but science has backed up these claims. Studies have been done to show that people will answer the exact same questions differently if asked in a different language. Some people claim to be funnier in one language than another, or more interesting, a better conversationalist, and so on. Everyone wishes they could be someone else from time to time, so why not take this opportunity to develop an extra personality?
  4. Learn about the world
    • Perhaps it’s obvious, but learning a new language will open many doors to you by allowing you to hear and understand the stories of people from all over the world, rather than just your own culture. As English-speakers, we are certainly lucky, because there is so much popular culture and media that is produced in our native tongue. However, there is much more out there, and it is easy to forget that until we learn a new language and realize what we have been missing. When you learn a new language, you are by definition able to communicate with a greater number of people. With that comes the ability to be exposed to the lives and stories of people very different from yourself, as well as to read their literature, to see their films, and so on. We can learn more and more about the world by speaking another language.
  5. Make more money
    • While we like to think about the cognitive and personal benefits of learning a language first and foremost, there is definitely something to be said for the material benefits. That is, multilingual people generally earn higher salaries than monolinguals. Your future employer knows that you, as a multilingual person, will be able to objectively contribute more to their company than your monolingual counterpart, and thus you will be seen as more employable and more valuable for your language skills. On average, multilinguals earn between 5 and 20% more per hour than monolinguals. Spending a little money to learn those extra languages will thus pay off!
  6. Think more rationally
    • Have you ever heard the saying: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head; if you talk to a man in his native language, that goes to his heart”? Nelson Mandela said that, and it’s very true. In fact, when we speak in the language we learned from birth, or our native language, we do not think rationally. That is because we don’t have to. You have probably noticed that speaking your second language takes much more work than speaking your native language. If you speak a second language all day at work or school, when you come home and speak your first language, you often feel like you can finally relax. Because your brain is working so much harder to process and prepare phrases in your second language, your thoughts are necessarily more rational and linear. When you are speaking your native language, you seldom have to think about what you are going to say before you say it, unless you are trying to be particularly careful with your words. The consequence of this is that your thoughts, while speaking your native language, are a chaotic flux of information mingling with emotions and sensory feelings. When you speak your second language, your thoughts have to make sense so that you can communicate the message you intend to communicate. It has been said that if you gamble in a casino while speaking your second language, you are more likely to make wiser decisions, and go home sooner, than you would if you were speaking your first language. So learn a new language, and learn to think more clearly!
  7. Have greater empathy
    • Strangely, in addition to being more rational, bilinguals are said to be more empathetic than monolinguals. This is perhaps because multilingual people have to put more effort into understanding what their interlocutor is saying, and even to figure out what they are feeling. Have you ever been in a conversation in a language which is not your first, and you had to work hard to determine the tone of the other speaker — were they being sarcastic, were they angry? All the work you have been putting into reading people’s emotions pays off in the end, because you carry those skills with you into all your future social interactions.

If you’ve enjoyed this list, then stop thinking about it and go out and learn a new language! Sign up for spring classes today at the Language Learning Institute!

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