Learning a New Language Can Make You More Tolerant


Learning a new language is always a great endeavour. Whether you do it for professional purposes or simply because you love it, deciding to pick up a new language is a huge achievement. You are probably aware that some of the benefits of learning a new language include: lessening the likelihood of developing dementia, expanding your work opportunities, and helping you to develop your more creative side, but did you know it can also make you a more tolerant person? Given that our world seems to be angling more and more towards intolerance, investing in learning a new language should be a worthwhile part of your fight against it. Here’s a few ways learning a new language can do just that:

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Cultural Competence

When you learn a new language, you also acquire knowledge about a new culture, country, or way of life. Your eyes are opened to new ways of doing things, which is known as ‘cultural competence’. In today’s globalised world, it’s nearly impossible to live without at least some measure of cultural competence. So how exactly does learning a new language make you more culturally competent?

Well, when you are immersed in a language it is assumed at some point that you will be immersed in the culture itself. In the classroom, you may analyse cultural stereotypes, and determine their validity (such as the common misconception that French people are rude). You won’t just be touching on themes related to grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure, but also on topics related to everyday life for native speakers of that same tongue.

For example, when I learned Mandarin, we discussed the idea behind ‘little emperors’ (children in China who are spoiled due to being an only child), the impact the Cultural Revolution had on China’s modern development, and other important topics. As a French student I have likewise analysed the Charlie Hebdo attack and touched on themes related to France’s well-known secular culture. In both these cases it wasn’t just my language prowess that grew, but also my cultural understanding of the world around me.

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Tolerance of Ambiguity

It’s part of human nature to be wary of change or of those who are very different from ourselves. We crave uniformity and comfort, and for some it can be a true struggle to step outside that familiar zone. The comfort level someone experiences when dealing with an unfamiliar situation is what is known as ‘tolerance of ambiguity’. Some people have a high tolerance, which means they are excited by foreign situations, while others find these same scenarios to be anxiety-inducing.

Learning a language is a huge tool when it comes to increasing your tolerance of ambiguity. Language learning has been known to help people deal with anxiety and depression. Think about it: language classes involve using unfamiliar words and usually you’re prone to make a lot of mistakes. When you force yourself to overcome your fears in the classroom, you are boosting your tolerance level which will in turn make real-life experiences easier to handle.

The more experience you have with learning languages, the more your tolerance grows. This can have multiple positive effects which include helping you to manage social situations more smoothly, making you more entrepreneurial and prone to take risks, and decreasing your fear of the world around you. Packing up your bags and moving to Spain, for example, won’t seem as terrifying if you’ve had the experience of learning Spanish. Getting lost in a taxi in Taipei won’t seem as overwhelming, wandering the streets of Istanbul alone won’t be as daunting, and accepting an invitation to an Indian wedding will seem like a great adventure instead of a scary situation!

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You would think that with the added benefit of putting out more tolerant students, universities would be falling over themselves to ensure that foreign language learning is a solid part of every curriculum. Sadly, this isn’t the case and languages tend to get pushed to the back-burner in favour of other ‘beneficial’ courses of study. Whether you live in the U.K., U.S., Canada, or elsewhere, you need to invest in a future where language is a vital part of your life – which means investing in yourself. Take control and sign yourself up for some language classes, you’ll never regret capitalising on creating a more tolerant and adventurous you!

Do you speak multiple languages? Does knowing more than one language make you more tolerant of the people and cultures around you? Share your experiences with us!