Most people want to learn a new language, even if they already know three! There are many personal reasons for wanting to learn a particular language. We may be drawn a certain culture or place, for example, and we want to learn the language so that we can go there. Some people learn a new language for love. In fact, you may be surprised at how many students I have had that were motivated to learn French because of love!
Even if you are on the fence about learning a new language for personal reasons, you may be interested to know that there are plenty of other reasons to learn one. The benefits of speaking another language reach farther than you might imagine. Take a look.
10 reasons to learn a new language
1. Delay Alzheimer’s
A 2010 Canadian study showed that Alzheimer’s patients who were bilingual maintained better brain function for a longer period of time that those who spoke just one language. It also showed that bilingual people experienced the onset of the disease around 4 years later than those who were not.
This is because people who speak more than one language have to use their executive control system more. This is the most important system in your brain, and it seems that bilinguals have to constantly exercise it to keep the languages separated. As the theory goes, those who speak more than two languages would have to exercise it even more!
The best news is that these benefits are not just for those who have been bilingual their whole lives, but also to those who learn a new language later in life. They key is that you need to use both languages regularly.
2. Live abroad
When you move to a country where the language is different, it can be very confusing and unsettling. You may even feel a bit lost, and you will likely feel out of place – because you are! I have students who live and work in France but don’t know how to speak French. So, while they didn’t need to speak the language to move there, they found it would make life so much better if they could.
They are sort of doing it backwards. They live in France first and learn to speak the language second. These student learn very quickly of course, because they have the benefit of being surrounded by it in their daily lives. But if you ask any one of them, they will tell you that it would have been an easier transition if they had studied French before moving there.
3. It is normal
If you grow up in a place where only one language is spoken, you may not see any need to learn another one. I know this is true for much of the United States, especially the Midwest where I live. You assume that since English is spoken all over the world it is normal for me to only speak it.
The truth is that over half of the people in the world speak at least two languages, that is to say between 60 and 75% of the population. In South Africa, for example, it is not unusual for people to speak multiple languages – out of necessity – as they may be surrounded by people who speak different indigenous languages as well as having to learn English and Afrikaners in school. People in Europe often speak multiple languages too due to their close proximity to countries that speak them.
4. Make more rational decisions
A study done at the University of Chicago showed that people were able to make better decisions when they thought about the problem in their second language. They found that using a foreign language reduces decision-making bias.
5. Increase job opportunities
While knowing another language won’t necessarily result in a big pay increase, it will increase the number of job you qualify for and expand the number of places where you can work around the world. If you learn Spanish, for example, you will be able to apply for jobs in English speaking countries or Spanish speaking countries. There are also many jobs that need bilingual workers and they will pay a small premium too.
6. Talk to more people
We all know someone who loves to talk, text, email, and message us constantly. If you don’t know anyone like that, you may be that person. It’s okay, I am that person too, and there is only room for one of us in each group. But if you learn another language, you have just increased the number of potential people you can talk to! Learn French and you add 275 million people! Learn Spanish and add 437 million, or learn Mandarin and add 1.2 billion new people you could potentially talk too! Amazing. 🙂
7. Grow your brain!
Scientists have been using MRI technology to study the effects of learning a second (or third) language on the brain. The results have shown that it is really good for your brain! A Swedish study showed that learning languages makes certain areas of the brain grow. This was only true for people studying languages – studying other subjects did not result in measurable brain growth.
To take it even further, a study done in 2014 found that certain brain growth only happens when the second language is learned in adulthood, after you have already mastered your first language. If you ask me, this is one of the best reasons to learn a new language! Most of our organs seem to be getting weaker, like our eyes, but we can actually increase the size of our brain. It seems to me that should make it function better. We already know that it helps delay the onset and effects of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
8. Get better at your first language
American English is my native language, if you couldn’t tell. I can express myself better in this language than in French or Spanish. I can produce it almost effortlessly by speaking or writing. I can understand it even when the speaker has a very different accent from mine. But I couldn’t tell you what a verb in the conditional tense was or when to use ‘who’ versus ‘whom’. That is until I learned other languages.
When you learn a new language as an adult, you also learn about grammar and the parts of speech. You learn about verb tenses, moods, and conjugation. You learn spelling and phonetic rules. You learn all of these things that you can then easily apply to your first language. In this way, you become better at your first language because you understand how it works better. You know what all the pieces are and gain a deeper understanding of how they fit together.
9. See the world through new eyes
Language and culture are intricately intertwined. They develop together as a group of people move through history and find their place in the world, and language is the verbal expression of their experience and understanding. When you learn a new language, you are learning the way in which a culture sees the world. We are able to understand what the culture values through language.
Idioms are a great tool to understanding another culture. For example, many of the expressions in English have to do with violence of some sort. In the USA, we say “I killed it” or “I kicked its a**” when we want to say we did a good job or succeeded. We “kill two birds with one stone” when we are able to accomplish two things while only putting forth the effort to do one of them. Understanding these idioms help you to understand United States culture. Likewise, learning the idioms used in other cultures will help you understand them better.
10. Improve your attention span
Edinburgh University did a study in 2016 where students between the ages of 18 and 78 took a course in Scottish Gaelic. After only a week of learning the new language, ALL of the students showed improved attention spans and mental alertness. This was true no matter their age. The same study also showed those who practiced their new language for 5 hours a week continued to have better attention and alertness even after nine months.
Learning a new language will help you pay better attention to things, and if you continue to practice and learn, you will maintain this increase! It seems like killing two birds with one stone. You get to learn a new language which in turn helps you be more competent and focused in other areas of life.