Unlike what my grandparents believed, speaking English slowly and loudly doesn’t quite qualify as communicating in a second language. While the prospect of learning a foreign language can be daunting, there are also many benefits.
Not only will it save you a few pennies, or help you avoid accidentally ordering a plate of unnamed innards, it can also make you a better communicator, boost your understanding of different cultures, spur on new friendships and even make you live longer.
These benefits are a result of the way that learning a new language changes your brain, and allows you access to new ideas. So if you are heading to Taiwan to teach for a year, or aiming to explore the beach-life in Central America, here are five reasons to start studying today:
1. To Improve Your Ability to Communicate
We don’t have to think about grammar or pronunciation while using our native tongue, but by practicing a second language we gain a better understanding of English in comparison. Suddenly you start to notice the order of words, different verb tenses, how to construct a sentence. Learning a second language not only helps you to better understand foreigners, but also can help you improve the clarity of your own writing and speech.
2. To Enhance Your Creativity
Speaking a second language can be a lesson in creativity. Whilst talking to my Spanish teacher the other day, I drew a blank, not having yet learned the word for POLITE. I gambled on POLITO being the correct Spanish term, much to my teacher’s amusement. It turns out, that while POLITO is indeed a Spanish word, it actually means something more like small ice cream cone. However, while in that instance I didn’t quite get it right, practicing a foreign language forces you to experiment, something which led researchers to conclude that studying foreign languages improves your planning, cognitive flexibility, and working memory.
3. To Help You Listen More Attentively
Bilingual individuals are better at picking up on what a particular person is saying, even in conditions that are normally distracting. This can lead to more fulfilling travel experiences as it could allow you to better absorb tips that are shared by fellow travellers, even in busy bars, or pay attention to your partner at breakfast while mentally calculating if you have enough foreign currency to actually pay for the meal…
4. To Be Healthy, Wealthy and Popular
On average, Native English speakers who also speak fluent Spanish, earn 4% more every year and are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease four years later than monolinguals. Different languages have different financial rewards, with more complicated and less commonly spoken languages translating into better salaries for those that speak them. As an expat, learning the language of the country that you are living in is by far the best way to help you make friends with the locals, and to make the most of your stay away from home.
5. To Make More Logical Decisions
In an experiment discussed on FreakonomicsRadio, one researcher played a game with his participants to determine their level of logical decision making. He would give the participant $5, and allow them to gamble on the toss of a coin, with an incorrect gamble losing them $1 and a correct guess netting them $2. Alternatively, the participant could choose not to make a guess, and so not lose anything. On average, those that did the experiment in their native tongue took less risks than those who did the experiment in their second language – even though logically it makes more sense to gamble, as in this experiment the odds are always in the gamblers favour. Those big decisions could be made more logically if you can consider them in second language.
While there are many benefits to your mind from learning a new language, perhaps the most important benefit is the message that you give to non-native English speakers by learning their native language. It shows that you value their culture, have invested time and serious effort into learning more about them, and that you have an open-minded, global perspective, that not all travellers are equipped with.