Why learn another language?

Unlocking the world one language at a time
The Multifaceted Benefits of Learning Another Language

In our increasingly interconnected world, learning another language is not just a valuable skill; it’s a gateway to new horizons. Beyond the practical utility of being able to communicate with people from different linguistic backgrounds, the benefits of language learning extend to diverse aspects of one’s life, ushering intellectual, cognitive, emotional, social, and work-related advantages. In this post, we’ll delve into the multifaceted gains of learning another language.

Let’s talk languaging!

Intellectual Benefits

1. Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills

Learning another language challenges the brain and sharpens cognitive skills. It requires you to think on your feet, adapt to new grammatical structures and vocabulary, and decode meaning from context. This mental exercise enhances problem-solving abilities, helping learners become more adept at finding solutions to complex issues in various aspects of life.

In fact, research has shown that bilingual individuals tend to perform better on tasks that involve divergent thinking and problem-solving, as they approach problems from multiple linguistic and cultural angles (Kessler & Quinn, 1981; Bialystok & Majumder, 1998; Cushen & Wiley, 2011).

2. Improved Memory

Language learning involves and requires tremendous memory power. As a result, language learners must remember new words, phrases, grammatical and pragmatic rules, which strengthen memory and recall skills. This cognitive benefit is not limited to language-related tasks but extends to everyday life where enhanced memory is a valuable asset.

As a matter of fact, learning a second language later in life can delay the onset of cognitive decline and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

3. Heightened Creativity

Learning another language fosters creativity. It encourages individuals to think outside the box, find novel ways to express themselves, and adapt to diverse cultural perspectives. Multilingualism stimulates the imagination and the ability to approach problems in unconventional ways.

Bilingual and multilingual individuals often excel in creative fields, such as art, literature, and music, where a deep understanding of different languages and cultures can lead to innovative works.Think of words or expressions in another language that are untranslatable in your native language. Some of my favorites include:

sobremesa (noun in Spanish) – the time after you’ve just had lunch/dinner yet you remain chatting at the table with family and friends.

ikigai (noun in Japanese) – your life’s purpose or worth; why do you do what you do?

crapoter (verb in French) – to fake smoke in order to look cool 😂. How cool is that word?

Voilà! (interjection in French) – Here/there it is! A word that we have wholeheartedly adopted in English because there is just no one equivalent.

ubuntu (noun in Bantu) – an ancient African word meaning  ‘humanity to others’ signifying that ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. No man is an island is a popular saying we have in English yet this is encapsulated as one word in Bantu.

jootha (jūṭhā) (adjective in Hindi) – an item which can be used/touched by mouth by another person therefore making it unclean. For example, if a person eats with a spoon and another uses it later, the second person to use the spoon is using the first person’s jootha. It is a word that features in the Trinidadian Creole with roots in the Hindi language.

Cognitive Benefits

4. Enhanced Multitasking

Language learners are skilled multitaskers. They must simultaneously process meaning, grammar, and pronunciation, a practice that hones their ability to manage multiple tasks efficiently. Bilingual individuals can more easily switch between tasks and manage competing demands, which is a valuable skill in today’s fast-paced work environments.

It should be noted that we are all natural language learners so we are therefore born with this inherent capacity to learn more than one language.

5. Improved Focus and Attention

Language learning requires concentrated attention to detail, as learners must parse sentences and understand the nuances of language. This heightened focus often carries over into other areas of life, improving the ability to concentrate on tasks.

As a result, bilingual/multilingual individuals tend to have better attention control and are more skilful at filtering distractions.

Emotional Benefits

6. Increased Empathy

Learning another language involves immersing oneself in the culture associated with that language. As a side note, every language is accompanied by its own culture, a trait which in itself is pretty cool. This cultural exposure can lead to increased empathy and a greater understanding of different worldviews. Language learners therefore develop a deeper appreciation for cultural differences and a more empathetic approach to intercultural communication.

7. Greater Tolerance

Exposure to diverse cultures through language learning can lead to greater tolerance and acceptance of different perspectives and lifestyles. Language learners are more likely to embrace diversity and appreciate the value of multiculturalism. Multilingual individuals tend to have a broader view of the world through their learned languages, which can lead to more inclusive and accepting attitudes towards people of different backgrounds.

8. Personal Growth

Learning another language can be a transformative experience that fosters personal growth. It requires determination, patience, and the willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone, leading to increased self-confidence and resilience. Individuals who embark on the journey of language learning often report increased self-esteem and a greater sense of accomplishment.

Social Benefits

9. Improved Communication Skills

Language learners become more adept at effective communication, not just in the target language but also in their native language. They learn to express themselves more clearly and concisely, which is a valuable skill in personal and professional relationships.

10. Expanding Social Networks

Speaking another language opens doors to new social circles and connections. It allows individuals to connect with people from different cultures, fostering friendships and professional relationships. For example, someone fluent in Spanish, for instance, may find it easier to connect with Spanish-speaking colleagues and make friends from Spanish-speaking countries.

11. Cultural Appreciation

Language learning deepens one’s appreciation for different cultures. It allows individuals to engage more fully in cultural activities, such as enjoying literature, films, music, and cuisine from other countries. Learning another language gives you insight and entry into its literature, poetry, cuisine, values and customs. It’s akin to stepping into another world where the rules are different.

Work Impact

12. Career Opportunities

In an increasingly globalized world, proficiency in another language is a valuable asset in the job market. Many employers actively seek bilingual or multilingual candidates, especially for roles that involve international business, translation, interpretation, or diplomacy.International organizations like the United Nations, Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières often require employees to be proficient in multiple languages, and knowledge of a second language can significantly boost one’s chances of being hired.

13. Enhanced Problem-Solving in the Workplace

In a professional setting, bilingual or multilingual employees bring their enhanced problem-solving skills to the table. They are better equipped to tackle complex issues that require navigating diverse cultural and linguistic landscapes. For example, a bilingual project manager can more effectively coordinate a team that includes members from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

14. Increased Earning Potential

Proficiency in a second language can lead to higher earning potential. Bilingual or multilingual employees often command higher salaries than their monolingual counterparts, especially in industries where language skills are in high demand. In the field of international business, for example, a multilingual sales representative may earn a higher commission due to their ability to communicate with a broader range of clients.

Conclusion

Learning another language is not merely a practical skill; it is a transformative journey that enriches your life in myriad ways. From the intellectual and cognitive benefits that enhance your problem-solving and memory skills to the emotional rewards of increased empathy and personal growth, learning another language has a profound impact. Moreover, it strengthens your social connections, broadens your cultural horizons, and opens up new career opportunities. In a world where interconnectedness is key, learning another language is not just an option; it’s a gateway to a world of possibilities and a deeper understanding of the diverse tapestry of human experience. So, why wait? Dive into the adventure of language learning, and confidently walk through the doors that it opens.

References

Bialystok, E., & Majumder, S. (1998). The relationship between bilingualism and the development of cognitive processes in problem solving. Applied Psycholinguistics, 19(1), 69-85. doi:10.1017/S0142716400010584

Cushen, P. J., & Wiley, J. (2011). Aha! Voila! Eureka! Bilingualism and insightful problem solving. Learning and Individual Differences, 21(4), 458-462.

Kessler, C., & Quinn, M. E. (1981). Bilingualism and science problem-solving ability. On TESOL, 80, 79-87.

2 Comments

  1. Love what you doing with this blog! I am looking forward to reading and learning more.
    I’ll be sharing it with my students.

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