“Those who know nothing of foreign languages, knows nothing of their own.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We’ve all met that guy who claims to speak twelve languages, and can effortlessly guide himself out of any situation using them. He travels for work, has his phone set to German despite never having lived there, and probably wears an expensive black coat. Hate him or love him, his ability to communicate in more than just English makes him just a little more interesting than most people you meet.Cool factor aside, there are a number of other great reasons to learn a new language, and it’s super easy to do nowadays too! Yeah, it’s hard work, and it’s easier to find excuses than to make the time to study a foreign language. Here’s why you should do it anyway.
You’ll build new relationships.
Being able to communicate in more languages means you can connect with people you wouldn’t have the chance to otherwise. I don’t only mean you’ll meet people while travelling, although this is a given. You’ll also be able to bond with other language learners in online study groups or forums, language exchanges, or in a language class. Starting a study group with some of your friends can also be a great way to make time for each other which doesn’t involve going out, spending a lot of money, and ingesting too many calories in one sitting.
You’ll see the world from a new perspective.
If you read a lot you’ll know that, often, the English translations of texts lose some of the quirks or poetic turn of phrase that the original texts had (a person with far superior language skills, who has read both versions, will probably have pointed this out). On top of that, there are some words and phrases that are extremely difficult to translate into English, and which lose a lot of their original meaning when they are.
That’s because each language describes the world in a different way. For example, in many languages, objects have grammatical genders. For speakers of Arabic, soup is feminine. In French, chocolate is masculine. The words that we use to speak about the world around us, even the ones we don’t have to think about before using, and the meaning that they carry can then spill over into other mental processes.
In 2002, researchers conducted a study in which they created a list of objects, which all had opposite genders in Spanish and German. Study participants were separated into groups of Spanish and German native speakers and asked, in English, to describe the objects using only three adjectives in English. Every single adjective generated by the participants was clearly linked to the gender of the object in their native language, although the participants didn’t realise it at the time of writing.
For example, in Spanish the word for “key” is feminine, and the adjectives the participants generated included the words “golden”, “intricate, “little,” and “lovely”. In German, “key” is masculine, and the adjectives native speakers used to describe a key in English included “hard”, “heavy”, “jagged” and “useful”.
On the other hand, the word for “bridge” is masculine in Spanish and feminine in German. It was described by Spanish speakers as “big”, “strong”, “sturdy” and “towering”, and by German speakers as “beautiful”, “elegant”, “peaceful”, and “pretty”.
The way that a language can influence your thinking affects you even when you’re not speaking at all! Just thinking in a language can impact the way you see the world around you, and as a result, can change the way you interact with it. That’s why learning a new language can introduce you to, quite literally, a whole new world. And if that doesn’t do it for you, you’ll at the very least be able to read a novel written in its original language, with all the meaning the author originally intended.
Travel will become easier, and more enjoyable.
Travelling is already a great experience. Add to it the ability to ask for directions in the local language, instead of fumbling around trying to navigate your way with Google Maps or, god forbid, and actual map, and you’ve got yourself a five star trip all round. (IMPORTANT SIDE BAR: Contrary to popular belief, they do NOT understand English everywhere you go, and it can be exceptionally frustrating when you’re on a strict time schedule and you can’t understand anyone or anything.)
Not to mention, being able to practice your new language on a trip, and have the locals understand you and respond to you can be a really motivating and uplifting experience. You’ll arrive back home at the end of your trip with photos from all the extra places you managed to see (because you weren’t lost in a country where nobody could understand you) and also a sense of pride and accomplishment.
It’s good for your brain.
Learning a new language has been proven to improve cognitive function in a number of ways, including, but not limited to, improved long- and short-term memory, better problem-solving skills, enhanced creative thinking abilities, and an improved attitude towards different cultures. Basically, studying a new language can make you a better human being. You’ll never need to mess with shopping lists again, once you’ve trained your brain to remember ten languages and also everything you needed to get at the supermarket.
These positive effects of language learning are helpful at any stage in one’s life, and therefore isn’t only beneficial to millennials. Why not get your parents and kids involved too, and turn it into a fun activity to do together?
How to Start:
You don’t have to start splurging on expensive, weekly language lessons right away. With the technology available at our fingertips, there are a myriad ways to dip your toe into the language learning pool without spending a cent. It’s also great, if you’re not planning to travel anywhere specific just yet, or haven’t got a particular language on your bucket list, to try out one or two and see which one appeals to you.
The most obvious place to start is YouTube. There are beginner lessons on Youtube for every language you can think of, and this is a great way to start learning without committing to anyone else’s lesson timetable. Alternatively, a quick Google search will pull up a number of online curricula and learning resources for whatever language you’re looking for, many of which will give you a free trial period in which to see if you like it or not.
Language learning apps like Duolingo and Memrise can be great fun, and can turn into a good bit of friendly competition if you get your friends and family involved. The only downside here is that once you’ve completed all the levels available to you…the app can’t help you anymore. Nevertheless, it is a good way to keep yourself motivated if you’re an absolute beginner.
Once you’ve advanced to being able to have a basic conversation, you can download language exchange apps. These allow you to communicate with native speakers in the language of your choice, and can be a great way to meet people in a country before you go there (a good way to get travel tips and advice!). Hello Talk is a lot like Facebook. You can write statuses, or post pictures with captions in the language you’re learning, and have them corrected by native speakers. you can also chat with native speakers via text or voice messages.
You could also try to find language learning groups in your area, and use your studies as an excuse to get out of the house and be social. If none of these groups exist, make one yourself! If you study in a group, you can split the cost of a textbook, which can get pretty pricey, and work through each chapter together. The advantages keep coming.
No matter which route you choose to take when you embark on your language learning adventure, or which language you choose to pursue, the impact it has on your life will undoubtedly be a positive one. There are no negative side-effects to learning a new language, there’s and no potential for regret after (other than “I wish I’d started sooner”).
It’s a sure-fire way to broaden your world, open new doors, improve your relationships, and perhaps your career. So what are you waiting for, my budding future polyglots? Pick your adventure, set your smartphone to German (or whatever), don that snazzy, black, “I speak more languages than you do” coat, and start training your brain.