10 Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language
If you think the only tangible benefits of learning a foreign language are speaking and hearing in a second tongue, think again.
Often it’s not only what we are able to do, but also who we become in learning how to do it, that reveals our capacity for personal growth. The same is true for becoming bilingual or multilingual.
Here are ten powerful benefits of learning a foreign language:
1. Boast A More Beautiful Mind
Feeling clever? Perhaps that’s because your bilingual (or multilingual) brain is a more advanced and agile model than the average monolingual mind.
One of the major benefits of learning a foreign language is that your brain actually grows larger while you study, even compared to other types of learning. After only three months, language learners beef up the brain mass in their hippocampus and three more areas of the cerebral cortex.
Are you the type tobelieve only what you see? The proof is in the picture—you can tell a bilingual person from a monolingual person based on brain imaging alone.
As a bilingual, you are regularly flexing the “cognitive muscle” of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) through a natural tension. When you speak in one language, you are also actively suppressing the other languages you know.
It’s never too late! No matter how old you are, a lasting benefit of learning a foreign language is you visibly increase both the connectivity and integration in your brain network, according to a study in the Journal of Neurolinguistics.
2. Enhance Your Memory Muscles
Another critical benefit of learning a foreign language is a boost to your memory power. As a bilingual, you experience a sharper working memory and your brain stays healthier for longer.
The more frequently you retrieve words as you speak a foreign language, the more you build up your recall capacity.
Children who learn a second language can retrieve their memories better, and are quicker and more precise in completing memory-based tasks than their monolingual peers.
No matter when you pick it up, the benefit of learning a foreign language is that it creates and reinforces your neural pathways, building up the “cognitive reserve” in your brain which equates to better cognitive resilience.
As a result, bilinguals are far more likely to have stronger recovery after a stroke. Also bilinguals experience the onset of Alzheimer’s nearly five years later than monolingual peers, even if their brains show the same level of disease progression.
The bilingual brain has more resources and avenues to call on to stay extra sharp, staving off age-related decline in brain function.
3. Gain A Competitive Edge
Let’s talk business. A practical benefit of learning a foreign language is you gain the advantage in a job hunt.
In the US for example, only 20% of students learn a foreign language, even though it’s the second biggest Spanish-speaking nation in the world (and growing), so having “bilingual” under your belt is a real resume boon.
For one, your self-confidence increases by acquiring a second language, which can drastically improve the outcome of your upcoming job interview.
You can also more easily interact with other international markets and have the prospect of being mobile in your work, which makes you more attractive in an increasingly global economy.
As evidence of the applied benefits of learning a foreign language, Alumni from The American Graduate School of International Management, who were required to study foreign language, reported they received a competitive advantage as a result of foreign language skills (82%) and cultural knowledge (89%).
Sometimes it literally pays to know a foreign language, as it can increase your salary by 10-15%, according to Euro London, language specialist recruitment agency.
Researchers have shown speaking Spanish can add up to $51,000 in income over 40 years.
4. Crack More Problems and Make Better Decisions
In addition to shaping the architecture of your brain, another cognitive benefit of learning a foreign language is that you get better at wieldingyour mind as a tool.
Even at second grade level, bilingual students are better problem- solvers. Learning a foreign language not only helps you to think creatively about how to approach a problem, but it also helps you pull from a richer toolbox of unexpected solutions.
Researchers have even demonstrated that when you frame a problem in a foreign language, you make more rational decisions that are less fear-based and risk-averse, and can lead to positive financial outcomes.
As a bilingual, you are also more savvy to how information is framed and presented, which improves your holistic understanding of many concepts and situations. In fact, bilinguals are more attuned to noticing misleading or deceptive information, according to a study from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain.
Perhaps we could say that bilinguals are harder to fool!
5. Be a More Empathetic Global Citizen
An intrinsic benefit of learning a foreign language is that you broadenyour mind to other ways of seeing and being, and that expanded perspective builds empathy.
Children who study Spanish develop significantly more open and positive worldly attitudes towards Spanish-speaking cultures.
This powerful sense of human kinship increases as they enter a language doorway intoconnection with other cultures in the world.
When you learn a foreign language, you develop a greater sense of belonging in a global community and increase your intercultural competence.
You realize the way you were raised to think and do things is not the only way.
You open yourself up to being influenced by both the similarities and differences that exist between cultures.
For example, have you noticed how reverently many Latin cultures regard the elder citizens of their communities, and how integrated los abuelos often are in daily family life and home, as compared to your home country?
A compelling benefit of learning a foreign language is increased tolerance and appreciation for the differences among people.
6. Master Your Native Tongue
Why learn Spanish? To get better at English.
Though it may sound like a paradox, a hidden benefit of learning a foreign language is coming into greater mastery of your native tongue.
When you are learning a foreign language, you are bringing your conscious attention to things you may have picked up in your mother language without ever having to think about them.
As a student of language, you become more attuned to linguistic architecture—that is, grammar, sentence structure, conjugation, intonations, idioms, and comprehension for starters.
Research suggests that children who study a foreign language better understand how language itself works as a system that can be both explored and manipulated, from flexible thinking to problem-solving.
Bilingualism is also correlated with an expanded vocabulary and being a more proficient reader.
(Warning: You may need to find a bigger space to park that lexicon.)
Not only does speaking a second language help you to master your native tongue, but it makes picking up a third language easier than it is for monolinguals to pick up their second language.
7. Become a Maverick at Multitasking
As a bilingual, you have to constantly mentally juggle between the languages that co-exist in your head, and so a natural benefit of learning a foreign language is becoming an adept multitasker.
When you have at least two languages at the tip of your tongue, you are often expressing in one while still thinking alongside in another, even if you’re not aware of it. You may often be slipping between languages.
While communicating, more than one language is always competing for your attention. This mental negotiation helps you to build the capacity to focus and prioritize, while filtering out irrelevant information.
Lifelong bilinguals demonstrate more efficient brain functioning than their peers, meaning a bilingual brain maintains better task-switching even as you age. It’s not exactly the fountain of youth, but it’s a youthful benefit of learning a foreign language.
8. Get Better At Math
The scholarly benefits of learning a foreign language go above and beyond linguistic prowess to complement your other forms of learning.
Several studies have shown that studying a foreign language enhances performance in subjects such as English, mathematics and social studies.
In support of complementary learning, one study even found that students who spend less class time on mathematics, but instead study a second language in that time, outperform their peers who spend more time studying math and no foreign language.
Students with just 90 minutes of foreign language a week score significantly higher in both mathematics and language arts. Ultimately, children who are bilingual are more creative in solving mathematical problems.
When it comes to accessing higher education, students who study foreign languages score higher than their monolingual peers on standardized tests. Even just 15 minutes of foreign language a day for third-graders across a one year period correlated with better test SAT results.
High school students with rigorous pre-college programs, including three years of foreign language study, also earn better grades in college and were less likely to drop out.
Let’s do the arithmetic on the benefit of learning a foreign language: it’s more than the sum of its parts.
9. Expand Your Creative Thinking
Creativity is a hard nut to measure, but one approach is your capacity to engage in divergent thinking—the ability to open your mind in different directions and to identify novel options and solutions.
The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) defines and measures four aspects of divergent thinking:
Research shows that yet another benefit of learning a foreign language is the significant enhancement of all four of these aspects of divergent thinking, which are highly creative and imaginative.
Any learner of a foreign language can attest to how creative and experimental you have to get when you want to explain something, but can’t find the right words.
Admit it. Body language often also gets involved!
An amazing benefit of learning a foreign language is it continuously expands the way you think about familiar concepts. Do you remember when you first found out that giving birth was expressed as dar a luz (to bring to light) in Spanish?
Perhaps the greatest creative asset you can possess in life is perceptual flexibility.
In short, the more you can perceive, the more you can experience. With new words, we awaken to richer ways of experiencing the world.
Down to the subtleties between shades of love or shades of colors, learning a language with names for these differences impacts our very ability to perceive them at all.
When it comes to the greater creative arts, higher musical aptitude is also interconnected with second language linguistic abilities, and the ability to perceive more fine contrasts in changes of sound or pronunciation.
10. Possess the Best Kind of Passport—Language!
“The limits of your language are the limits of your world” – Ludwig Wittgenstein
More than any airplane ticket, train ticket, or tank of gas, the greatest benefit of learning a foreign language—especially Spanish—is that language is your true passport to other places and cultures.
Because Spanish is the official language of 21 countries, and a very prominent second language in the US, with more Spanish speakers than any other country except Mexico.
While English is the most spoken language in the world when including total speakers, Spanish has more native speakers (460 million) than English (379 million) does.
That’s a lot of people to open up your world to!
Spanish is truly an access pass to new destinations—whether in countries, cultures, people, films, books, music, ways of being, or art.
Speaking even a little bit of the local language goes a long way towards boosting the quality of your trip as you begin creating meaningful connections with those you meet.
How Else Could Learning Spanish Benefit You?
Did you ever imagine that the benefits of learning a foreign language could be so numerous, so rich, and so diverse?
Speaking Spanish may be most about upping your language game, but it can also evolve everything from your brain power to your earning power to your creative potential to your ability to perceive more acutely in the world.
When you become a bilingual, you also develop who you are as a human being.
Now that you have a better sense of the benefits of learning a foreign language, are you ready to upgrade your language passport?
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