10 reasons to learn a new language

There are an abundant of social, neurological and personal benefits that spring from learning and practising a new language.

We’ve all experienced it. The awkward smile, perhaps a wave, usually coupled with some highly exaggerated gestures. A shake of the head then a shrug of the shoulders. Then the sorrowful I’d-like-to-help-but-don’t-understand smile. And you are still stranded; your attempt at obtaining directions in this unfamiliar place has failed. Because of language restraints.

However, there are more reasons to master a foreign language than merely making yourself understood in order to obtain directions while overseas. In fact, there are abundant social, neurological and personal benefits that spring from learning and practising a new language. And, quite aside from all that, it’s great fun!

We explore 10 reasons why learning a new language should be on the top of your list of resolutions.

1. It makes the brain bigger
A Swedish study by Lund University in 2012 recorded physical changes to the brain structure as a result of foreign language acquisition. Clinical psychologist and certified neurotherapist, Michelle Aniftos, explains that these changes included “increases in hippocampus volume and in cortical thickness in specific areas [of the brain] relative to language learning and practice”.

The brain’s capacity to change or reconfigure itself as a result of external stimulus (like foreign language learning) is called ‘neuroplasticity’. Aniftos explains.

“Experiencing learning success … may alter or strengthen cortical functioning via neuroplasticity. [So] the brain can reorganise itself in response to linguistic experience.” Essentially, your brain matter increases and the brain itself functions more efficiently. Who wouldn’t like some extra grey matter?

2. It may delay the onset of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease
“Bilingual experience-dependent neural changes may slow the onset of late-life diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” Aniftos says. A 2010 study of patients with probable Alzheimer’s disorder discovered that patients who were bilingual had experienced the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms 5.1 years later than monolingual patients. They had also been diagnosed 4.3 years later than those with only one language.

3. It makes you more empathetic
Psychologist and intercultural specialist Jasmine Sliger describes how this happens. “[Learning another language] creates a new empathy for people from other cultures, especially for migrants, because you start really understanding how hard it was for them to learn the language,” she says. This empathetic reaction and change of spirit can positively alter the way you view the world and the cultures within it so that you learn to not only tolerate but celebrate diversity.

4. It improves brain function and flexibility
Research has proven that bilingual people switch between two tasks more easily than monolingual people. The reason for this is the process of inhibiting one language from interfering while the other is working is stronger in a bi or multilingual person. This is because they frequently have to employ this process in order to speak or understand one language as opposed to another. This same process allows them to switch from one activity to another and multi-task more efficiently. In a world as busy as the one we live in, a capacity to multi-task is unquestionably highly sought after.

5. It increases your creativity
Sliger agrees with this one. “It makes you mentally flexible,” she says, “and it helps you with being more inventive.”

We undoubtedly take for granted our capacity to express ourselves fairly autonomously in our native tongue without having to think of particular words to create meaning. It happens automatically. But in a second or even a third language, with more restricted vocabulary, multilingual people develop creative ways of expressing themselves within the confines of the words they do know.

6. It expands your 
career potential
No longer is the ‘everyone-speaks-English-anyway’ excuse valid currency for not being able to express yourself, even basically, in another language. The fact is, not everyone speaks English.

The educated and elite in certain countries do but that is certainly not ‘everyone’. And, even if you feel that you would never use a second language in your current job, this may not always be the case. As Sliger points out, “the fact is, in our lifetime we will have two or more careers.” So, consider learning a foreign language as future-planning.

7. It improves your understanding and 
your respect for your first language
Regardless of what your first language is, learning another one will help you develop a respect for your native tongue, its nuances, its gestures, its origins. You will learn to see links between languages and enjoy the differences. Developing an understanding of gestures and their variance between languages and cultures will not only bring a smile to your face but make you think twice about using certain signals as you speak.

8. It broadens your travel options and experiences
Knowing a foreign language, even partially, allows you to experience travel in an entirely different manner. When you are able to communicate with locals using more than just gestures it creates a connection between them and yourself and you become less of a tourist and more able to truly experience a different way of living and communicating. Knowing another language means “you’re not afraid to connect [with people] because you’re not afraid of looking like a goose or of mispronouncing something”, Sliger points out. “That’s a self-esteem thing.”

9. It improves your self-esteem and confidence
Certainly, the boost your self-confidence receives in knowing you are able to express yourself to some extent in a language other than your own is magnificent. The sensation of being able to connect with others on a linguistic level provides joy not only to yourself and boosts your self-esteem but also brings pleasure to those with whom you communicate. In addition, “it increases your self-esteem because you’ve mastered something,” Sliger says. And mastery is an ongoing activity.

10. It’s fun!
Sliger agrees with this one too. “It really stretches you and certainly, it’s never dull,” she says. “And I think it’s wonderful to learn another language.” She is also very firm about everyone having the capacity to learn a new language and she has some excellent advice. “You just have to have patience with yourself and have realistic expectations,” she says.
So, with so many reasons to learn a language and so many study options available, this is definitely one New Year’s Resolution you can keep.

What to consider when choosing a language course

YOU ARE: Usually out of the house, on the go, you travel for work
LOOK FOR:Online courses with flexibility in their enrolment and their requirements.

YOU ARE: A 9-to-5 worker who usually has evenings to yourself
LOOK FOR: Face-to-face courses that are nearby – try community colleges or language schools.

YOU ARE: A juggler, balancing work, kids and everything else
LOOK FOR: Go for flexibility. Online courses are great if you have an internet connection and a quiet space in the house that you can visit a few times a week. Otherwise opt for face-to-face classes, perhaps on a Saturday morning or another time during the week that suits.

YOU ARE: A student, or a part-time worker
LOOK FOR: Go for face-to-face evening courses, unless you work evenings, in which case online might be best. NH

NEXT: 10 ways to achieve work/life balance>>

Rate This

No votes yet
The information presented on this website is not intended as specific medical advice and is not a substitute for professional medical treatment or diagnosis. Read our Medical Notice.