Social benefits of learning a language
If you are limited to speaking only one language, it’s difficult to share your thoughts with someone who doesn’t speak the same language. Learning a new language brings you closer to understanding new ways of thinking and opens up a whole world of close friendships and even romantic relationships.
You’ll open up more social and cultural opportunities
Language allows you to express your thoughts to other people, but what if there are no words to express what you’re thinking and feeling? Understanding a second language can allow you to express something you may not be able to with only one language.
Because language is linked to culture, you will find that by speaking more than one language you have a better understanding of and appreciation for other cultures. This allows you to establish stronger bonds with people from other cultural backgrounds.
Nelson Mandela once said, “if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Communicating in someone’s native tongue is not only a great way to show respect, but it also helps you develop a deeper personal connection that goes beyond just being understood. It also puts people at ease, and they will feel more comfortable opening up to you.
You’ll have a much easier time when you travel
If you travel often, knowing multiple foreign languages is certainly beneficial. In addition to being able to read and understand the signs, maps and menus, you can also communicate with the locals in their native tongue, which makes sparking new friendships a lot easier. Not to mention, the challenge of navigating a new country and overcoming its language barriers is hugely rewarding. Imagine working out how to get from point A to B in a new country, without having to resort to using Google Translate—it’s no small feat!
Speaking the local language can also help you have a more authentic experience while you travel, because you don’t have to rely on just your English if you find yourself outside of a major city. It’s also a super immersive way to improve your speech quickly if you’re hoping to become fluent in a shorter period of time.
You’ll become more empathetic towards other ways of seeing the world
Studies have shown that children who are exposed to other languages are more likely to be empathetic and better communicators. When communicating with others, we rely on empathy to determine what people mean rather than what they say.
In one particular study, a group of children aged between 4 to 6, from different linguistic backgrounds were presented with a situation in which they had to consider someone else’s perspective to understand the meaning. The children were given three toy cars—small, medium and large but were in a position where they could observe that the adult could not see the smallest car. The adult would then ask the child to move the smallest car. Since the adult could see only the medium and large cars, the child might assume she is referring to the ‘medium’ car.
Bilingual children were better, on average, than monolingual children at performing this task. That’s because interpreting someone’s words doesn’t just rely on its content, but also in its context. Children in multilingual environments are presented with similar challenges when navigating context and the perspective of others.
According to the study, “early language exposure is essential to developing a formal language system but may not be sufficient for communicating effectively. To understand a speaker’s intention, one must take the speaker’s perspective”.
Benefits of bilingualism on the brain
The cognitive benefits of learning a second language have been widely researched and documented. Something many people may not realise is that learning a new language can strengthen neural pathways and boost your brain’s performance in other areas. Recent research has indicated that bilingual speakers can outperform monolinguals in abilities such as editing out irrelevant information and focusing on important information. These skills make bilinguals better at prioritising and multi-tasking.
Experiments with older bilingual speakers show that the enhanced mental skills of bilingualism may protect them from illnesses such as Alzheimer's and dementia. Even bilingual individuals who show progressive physical signs of Alzheimer’s perform better behaviourally, even if their scans suggest that their symptoms should be much worse. This indicates that being bilingual may help to establish alternate brain networks to compensate for those that become damaged during aging.
At the end of the day, mastering a new language can teach you many important life lessons including how to accept mistakes as part of the learning experience and that it is always better to try than to never experience the satisfaction of overcoming a challenge.
After all, language and cultural understanding are the keys to connecting both personally and professionally, and bettering yourself as a global citizen of the world.
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