Mastering another language is a vital skill in today’s networked world. Not only does science introduce you to new cultures and ways of thinking, but it also suggests that learning a new language can unlock your professional potential and strengthen the way your brain works.
Here are six ways learning a language can open doors and change aspects of your life.
1. Speaking other languages creates opportunities
In the 21st century, mastering a second language is not only beneficial – in many cases it is critical to success.
The world economy is more global than ever. This brings different people, cultures and communities into more frequent contact, which means that many employers are excited to hire people who speak other languages.
People who are fluent in more than one language are in great demand in many industries and sectors. US employers posted around 240,000 job postings in 2010 that indicated the need for a bilingual workforce, and by 2015 the number had doubled.
Many exciting jobs can only be done by someone who speaks a different language, such as:
- Air Stewardess
- Social worker
- Language teacher / tutor
Learning a second language can potentially even lead to a career change!
2. Learning a new language changes your brain
It used to be widely believed that the brain stopped changing after a certain age. However, recent research shows that the brain forms itself in response to learning throughout our lives.
As you learn, you create new neural pathways in your brain. That said, when you learn things like grammar or vocabulary from another language, your brain actually works differently. You rewire your circuitry to adapt and respond to new circumstances. This is an example of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change and adapt.
The way our neurons interact is constantly changing due to new information, environments and stimuli. By encouraging these changes through learning, such as learning new languages, we can let our minds work in new ways and make new connections. This focused stimulation can even lead to other benefits such as:
- Improved ability to learn new things
- Strengthening your existing cognitive skills
- Better memory
- Stronger and more accurate retrieval of information
- Stress relief
3. Being bilingual helps you multitask
Science suggests that bilingual speakers have a head start when it comes to how their brains work. Research shows that executive function benefits in bilingual people are not limited to the language pathways of the brain, but also affect areas of the brain that affect non-language cognitive control.
Psycholinguist Mark Antoniou of Western Sydney University in Australia describes how the use of two or more languages in our daily lives could benefit our brains.
Bilingual speakers in one study had better response times than their monolingual counterparts during a multitasking experiment. The results of this particular study suggest that having experience in more than one language improves performance when doing two tasks at the same time.
4. Knowing other languages improves your worldview
One of the most satisfying results of being fluent in another language is understanding a new culture. The process can create connections and change paradigms in your own world. There are around 7,139 languages spoken in the world today, and each one is uniquely shaped by the cultures of the people who use them. These languages, in turn, help shape these people and cultures.
Different cultures encourage different perspectives and ideologies than in our own backyards, and through language we can better understand and appreciate our shared experience. Cultures around the world are rich in unique stories, traditions, customs and beliefs, and all of these can be achieved through language.
The languages you speak actually affect how you perceive and interact with the world around you. For example, English, Chinese, and Russian words are often not directly translated or equated; rather, they represent different systems for categorizing and understanding experiences. As a result, these languages (and others) orient their users towards certain perspectives on the world.
5. Speaking other languages will help you understand your mother tongue better
Knowing how to use more than one language isn’t just about being comfortable using different words. It’s also about how other languages can help you deepen your connection with your own.
Consider conjugating a perfect verb in Spanish (known as el pluscuamperfecto). To practice key things like word order and tense in Spanish, English speakers need to get their knowledge of the grammar rules of their own language and, in some cases, think about basics of the English language that they may not have considered in a long time.
As you learn a new language, you will quickly find yourself making mistakes and challenging yourself to express yourself clearly. This experience can help you improve your communication skills as an English speaker in your daily life.
6. Practicing a new language improves non-verbal communication
A challenging aspect of any new language is understanding how gestures, facial expressions, and body language flow into the overall process of communication.
For example, in some areas of Italy, pressing the index finger on the cavity of the cheek during a meal means that you find the food delicious. Sometimes even make the gesture on both sides of your face for exceptional taste. Many Americans are initially confused by this, as there is no similar non-verbal expression in our own culture.
Take a look at the “Touchability Index”, which ranks Europeans from different countries according to their preferences for touch during everyday communication. It places Finns at the top and British at the bottom. Knowing when to shake hands, bow, or kiss a cheek (and when not to) is a crucial part of understanding how to use a language in a cultural context.
Learning specific gestures and non-verbal gestures for the language you are learning can help you communicate effectively without words, both in your native language and in your new language.
Develop your potential
Few things make the brain work as hard as learning a new language, but nothing beats the confidence to speak your new language for the first time without hesitation – let’s call that the seventh bonus!
Language learning is not just a creative process that can change your life. Whatever language appeals to you, try learning it with Rosetta Stone.