Learning a new language is an exciting and challenging way to broaden your horizons. However, some believe that learning another language is unnecessary because they can get by abroad with English. There are times when communication in English just won't work, though.
With ever-increasing levels of international trade and business, tourism, immigration, and various cross-cultural experiences, chances are you will eventually find yourself face-to-face with someone who doesn’t speak English or struggles with a low level. The reasons to learn a foreign language or two have never been stronger. You don’t need to be a polyglot, but there are many reasons why language learning is still meaningful.
In this post, we'll discuss why it's still important to learn foreign languages even if you're only going to use them occasionally.
1. It’s good for your brain
You might not know this particular perk of learning a new language. However, research published in the New York Times shows that being bilingual actually makes you smarter!
Learning a foreign language at any age will help you learn new things in other areas of life. Learning a language is challenging, and that challenge can also assist you in learning additional skills. The more you practice the process of learning, the more quickly and efficiently your brain works.
There are many benefits for lifelong learners:
- Increased cognitive ability
- Better memory
- Sharper reasoning skills
- Improved creativity
- Improved problem-solving skills
- Increased attention span
- Greater self-discipline
Studies have shown that speaking a second language can improve your cognitive skills, even those that don't relate to language. For example, according to a study conducted by researchers at Harvard University, babies raised in bilingual households were better at anticipating and responding to changes in their environment than babies from families that only spoke one language.
A University of Chicago study showed that thinking in a foreign language helps reduce biases in decision-making. There’s even research that has demonstrated that being bilingual can help delay the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
2. It makes you a competitive job applicant
Why would you not give yourself every possible edge in an increasingly competitive job market? But it’s not just about padding your resume. With globalization in full swing, there’s a good chance you’ll work with people whose first language isn’t English. Maybe it’s a development team in India, a manufacturing plant in China, or an alternative energy supplier in Germany; being able to communicate in other languages makes you much more valuable to an employer.
David Goodman-Smith, the managing partner at China Study Abroad (18505), a full-service agency based in Beijing, says his company’s fastest-growing group of students are people looking to enhance their employment opportunities.
“Having that competitive edge on your CV these days can be invaluable and Mandarin is without a doubt an eye-catcher. Companies are on the lookout for these kinds of experiences more and more,” he explains.
3. It allows you to connect with your family
Learning the language, your family members speak natively allows you to connect with them on a more personal level. When you speak their language, they will be able to tell you things they would otherwise struggle to explain in English.
In addition, you can learn about their culture, history, and traditions by simply talking with them daily—far more than if all communication was done through an interpreter or translator (especially if there are many generations between you). This knowledge will help you better understand your family's personality and why they act the way they do, which may help strengthen your relationship and give insight into yourself and what makes you who you are today!
David says China Study Abroad has seen more and more ethnic Chinese people going to China to study Mandarin.
“As China grows [globally], families are more eager to make sure their children are not only more connected to their roots in China, but also that they have a good grasp of the language.”
4. It enhances overseas travel
Foreign language learning also makes it easier to travel, as you'll be able to communicate with the local people and understand signs, menus, and other written materials. The US Defense Language Institute (DLI) even recommends that all military members study a foreign language because of its practical applications. According to DLI's website:
"Learning a new language can open up many doors for you; it will help you learn about people from other cultures, share your own culture with others, improve your job opportunities and make friends around the globe."
Unless your travel plans involve only English-speaking countries, you’ll probably want to learn a new language to make things easier for yourself.
Knowing some essential words can help break the ice in a foreign country. Of course, it’s not the same as having an entire conversation, but most people appreciate that you’re trying to speak their language, even if you have to switch back to English immediately.
5. It promotes cultural understanding
Let’s face it, language and culture go hand in hand. If you want to learn about Kenyan culture, Indian culture, or Chinese culture, you should probably learn some Swahili, Hindi, or Mandarin, respectively. Of course, it’s possible to do so otherwise, but there’s only so much you can learn from a book or a video. To truly understand a culture, you have to know what people are talking about.
Imagine trying to learn about American culture without understanding English. Imagine trying to understand the humor of Dave Chappelle, Bob Dylan's lyrics, or Shakespeare's works without knowing what the words mean. Cultural subtleties and pop culture references might be lost without some grasp of the local language.
By learning another language, you can understand what people are saying and the meaning behind their words. You can also understand their culture and way of life better. For example, if you learn French, when you hear someone say "c'est la vie," it won't just be noise to you—you'll know that it means "that's life." Or when someone says "Mouche," they aren't talking about a fly; they're talking about something else entirely.
6. It can help you make new friends
You can meet people who speak the language and have a common interest. This is great if you're looking to make new friends in your country or abroad. For example, if you're learning Spanish and are going on vacation to Spain, you'll likely be able to find someone who speaks both English and Spanish! You may also meet people who speak multiple languages, which would allow for some interesting conversations about how everyone learns their second language differently.
If you want to expand your social circle and make new friends, learning another language will benefit both parties involved in this exchange.
As long as there are people around from different cultures or countries, there will always be someone willing to meet up with others who share their passion for languages!
7. It accelerates overall language learning
Learning a foreign language can help you learn other languages faster.
This is because the process of learning a new language requires you to use your brain in new ways that are different from how you normally think and speak. This increases neuroplasticity, which means that when you learn another language, later on, it will be easier than if you hadn't learned the first one.
In addition to this benefit of increasing neuroplasticity (which we mentioned above), learning a foreign language also exposes you to new words and sentence structures. These things will help you learn other languages! This is because these words and structures exist across many different language families like Romance or Germanic. So once a person has retained them in one language, they'll have an easier time picking up similar words or phrases in another language later on down the road.
8. You'll understand more about your own culture and language
A foreign language will allow you to understand your own language better. You'll learn about the structure of your native tongue, which will help you appreciate why it works the way it does. You'll also see how other languages operate and how they differ from English.
This is an excellent way for native speakers of English to gain insight into their own culture and language. For example, when I first learned Spanish, I realized that many words in my native tongue had different meanings depending on whether they were used as nouns or verbs. This helped me understand why some words were spelled differently than others while still being pronounced the same way (for example, "plane" vs. "plain").
An understanding of both our own cultures and those around us can lead us to greater tolerance and peace between various groups of people around the world by allowing us to empathize with each other more effectively than before!
Learn a second language and take your life to a new level
Of course, you’re not limited to having just one specific motivation to learn a new language – most people do it for a multitude of reasons.
Big words like polyglot and multilingual don’t scare us here at Go Overseas, and they shouldn’t scare you either. Learn a new language, and take your education, career, and life to a new level.
Interested in learning a new language abroad? Browse our lists of language schools abroad, along with ratings and reviews.