We in the English-speaking world have enjoyed a monopoly on global language proficiency. Other countries have accepted that English is the most important language and have taught it in their schools; they have their road signs, directions, tourist attraction descriptions, etc. all translated into English.
But the world is changing. While we have allowed the study of foreign languages to be optional for our students, other countries have not done the same. It is not unusual, for example, for students in Eastern European countries to be proficient in multiple languages of that region, as well as in English.
Beyond this reality, is the fact that learning a foreign language has some major benefits – both cognitive and professional. And we English-speakers would do well to understand these.
Here are just five ways in which learning a foreign language can improve your life.
The Brain is Stimulated to Make New Connections
The human brain is a highly complex organ. It has a left and right side, each one responsible for certain functions. And it has frontal and back regions also responsible for certain functions.
The language center of the brain is in the left hemisphere. But when a foreign language is introduced, the brain must establish new connections, between the right and left hemispheres.
This increases and improves brain function. In fact, some studies have shown that the brain actually enlarges during the process.
Attention Span is Increased
The digital world has had one negative impact on us all. Our attention spans have decreased. In fact, there are studies that show attention spans are as short as eight seconds.
When we engage in learning a new language, we are forced to focus on the unknown and make it known – pronunciation, phrase and sentence structures, etc. The practice of focusing to learn a foreign language improves our ability to focus on other things as well.
It Slows the Onset of Cognitive Decline Among Seniors
Cognitive decline is a normal part of aging. In its more severe forms, it is dementia and Alzheimer’s. Research studies at several major universities all over the world have shown that when older people take up the study of a foreign language, normal cognitive decline is actually slowed by as much as five years.
Career Opportunities Increase
The world is becoming a very small place. We humans think nothing of moving to another country and establishing residency. More and more, countries are becoming “melting pots” of cultures and languages.
This has increased the demand for professionals who are fluent in more than one language. When companies look to hire, candidates with more than one language are more attractive.
Another career opportunity is to become a translator. Translation companies websites always have a call for those who are fluent in at least two languages. Many multilinguals work as freelancers for several of these at a time and earn a great income.
Add to these two opportunities the need for translators, interpreters, and transcriptionists for a host of government and legal jurisdictions in every country.
Memory is Improved
Much of learning a language involves memorizing – vocabulary, phrases, idioms, sentence structures, and more. Once we get out of formal schooling, we use that function of our brains less and less. After all, if we need to know something, we have Siri and Alexa.
Yet there are times when you do need to remember details. So, pick a language that you choose yourself, for any reason, and start working that part of your brain again. You won’t regret it.
Are There More Benefits?
The simple answer is “yes.” Learning another language can enrich your life in many ways. You can watch foreign films and read novels; you can become a volunteer interpreter for immigrants in your community; you can offer your services to help children who have been transplanted into schools where they must learn a new language.
And you will develop an appreciation of another culture that you didn’t have before. Expand your horizons and your brain by committing to learning at least one other language. You will never regret doing it.