7 Surprising Benefits of Learning a Second Language
Sean Hopwood, MBA is founder and President of Day Translations, an online localisation and translation services provider. The company’s DayInterpreting service connects clients to interpreting quickly and effectively via the web or phone.
Image copyright: sifotography / 123RF Stock Photo
Many of us are often content to stay in the same country we’re born in, to live out a meaningful life in a familiar environment. While there’s definitely nothing wrong with this, most people who make this decision see no use of learning a second language – especially if the language they do know is one of the most common, such as Chinese, English, or Spanish. More often than not, with just one language many feel fully equipped to take on the challenges that lay ahead mainly because the amount of effort required to learn an entirely new language seems too daunting. True enough, we spend most of our lives learning our first language, which makes learning a second feel completely intimidating.
However, there is a reason why others strive to learn a second (or even a third) language despite the gargantuan amount of effort involved in learning one from head to toe. The amount of opportunities it can present cannot be understated, and to give you an idea of just how rewarding it can be here are some surprising benefits of learning a second language.
1. Your brain will thank you for it
The first and definitely one of the most important benefits is how your brain is able to improve itself thanks to a second language. This mostly has to do with the complexities that a different spoken language can entail. Many studies show that people who’ve taken the time to learn and understand another language have improved concentration, memory, and even intelligence as a beneficial side effect. As if that wasn’t enough, putting your brain through all that effort actually minimises the risks of Alzheimer’s, as well as dementia.
This is all due to the fact that a second language expands and improves your brain’s connections, making it easier for complex thinking because speaking an entirely different form of linguistic communication is complex. It’s a benefit that alone would make all the effort of learning worth it.
2. It immerses you in the culture of the language you’re learning
Taking the time to learn a country’s language pretty much means you’re getting a crash course in what that particular country is all about. This is due to the fact that the languages of the world are so rich and diverse, with so many unique things about them that it colors that particular place in ways you might never have thought possible. For example, being able to appreciate Spanish art and entertainment all over the world is directly tied to understanding the language. There are so many subtle tells, things you would not understand if you didn’t take the time to learn how people who know Spanish – not just the natives – communicate.
The reason for this is that Spanish is one of the most spoken languages in the world, giving it a diversity that allows you to connect not only to Spanish’s point of origin, but how the language interacts with other cultures and is melded by it.
3. It allows a deeper connection with your own culture
Another surprising benefit is that the act of learning a completely different language will improve your insight on your native language and culture. By allowing your brain to go through the complex process of understanding the ins and outs of another country’s culture by learning how the natives communicate, you in turn create new ways of viewing your own history and culture. This allows you access to a level of insight that you may not even have thought yourself capable of achieving, and is one of the most rewarding aspects about learning a second language.
You would be surprised at how different your perspective will be when you start comparing the language and culture you just mastered to the environment and history of the country you grew up in. This kind of insight is rare, and it will only serve to strengthen your ties with the world.
4. It opens the door for career opportunities
One very practical reason that people go through the effort of understanding and mastering a foreign language is because the opportunities it presents can be very lucrative in the business side of things. As a matter of fact this is probably one of the most common reasons why anyone would want to learn another completely different way of communication.
There can be no doubt that another language can and will give you an edge when it comes to your competition – especially when paired with those who only know their native language. Most businesses, even if the foreign language that you chose is not particularly important to their goals, will hire you just for the fact that you were adaptable enough to take the time to learn another language. This opens the door to a multitude of opportunities such as the immensely successful field of interpreting services.
5. Travelling to foreign countries become much easier
There are many people out there with an innate desire to travel, but are often intimidated by the fact that they do not understand the native language of the place they want to visit. One particularly surprising fact about learning a second language is that you will find yourself breathing easier even if the language you learned won’t prove too useful where you want to go. This is because the complex process of learning all the little intricacies that come with foreign communication means that you have a foundation for understanding the language of the country you’ll be travelling to.
The effect a second or third language will have on you is often so profound that it affects you in many subtle ways, with one of them being the ability to better understand even languages you still don’t know. Not to mention the fact that traveling to that country whose language you strove hard to finally master is an experience worth working for.
6. Foreign language fosters understanding
One of the biggest problems the world is facing today is how many of its diverse cultures of people refuse to understand each other because of clashes of dogma. This often leads to misunderstanding and in many cases, violence. It’s a shame that so many people could avoid this kind of archaic behaviour entirely if only they took the time to delve into each other’s culture.
From a more personal standpoint, by taking the time to master a second language, you are already fostering a more understanding relationship with that particular country. You’ll often find yourself becoming more tolerant over some of the aspects of their culture you might not particularly agree with, as well as becoming a friendlier individual over all. This is perhaps one of the most surprising benefits in the list because of how much it affects you as an individual.
7. With appreciation comes a more fulfilling life
Last but certainly not the least, this benefit is a bit of a mix of all the others above it. With all of these incredible changes affecting you in both the smallest and the biggest ways, it’s a normal reaction to be completely overwhelmed by this experience. We often go through life with material goals such as getting a car and a house, and providing for one’s family.
However, we also have goals that we tend to overlook, such as living a rewarding and fulfilling life, the endless pursuit of happiness. These life goals are often more difficult to find, and perhaps the greatest benefit that a second language provides is its ability to grant you a new perspective on these goals. A second spoken language fosters more understanding and gives you more opportunities to immerse yourself in your own culture. It makes it easier for you to advance in your career, while allowing benefits to your mental and physical health. All of these wonderful side effects serve the higher purpose of making your life that much brighter. It wouldn’t be a surprise if you found yourself a completely different and healthier person because of it.
To conclude, there are actually many more rewards one can benefit from when it comes to learning a second language. This is just a small list of some of the most important benefits and what a second form of spoken communication can do to change your life for the better. When you take the time to truly learn a foreign country’s form of communication, you aren’t just doing it for the sake of learning it – even if that was the original intention. When you finally finish mastering this language, you’ll find that you’ve improved yourself overall, and not just in the school of linguistics.
From a deeper connection to their culture to feeling like a more tolerant and responsible person in general, learning a second language will change you in ways you would never have realised. Without a doubt, the effort involved in this massive undertaking will turn many people off. However, the opportunity to grow and become a better human being is well worth all of the blood, sweat and tears that come with mastering another language.