Studies show that 43% of the world’s population is bilingual, 13% are trilingual, 3% are multilingual (four languages) and a small proportion (1%) can speak five languages or more. In many countries, such as Germany, foreign language learning is part and parcel of 21st century life. It’s not only necessary, it’s positively encouraged and viewed as a unique opportunity to learn more about other cultures.
In the UK, however, there is a prevailing attitude that languages are ‘pointless’, ‘unnecessary’ and a ‘waste of time’. After all, surely everyone in the world should just learn English! This attitude is prominent in our secondary schools, where language learning is at its lowest level since the turn of the millennium. Though English may be the most commonly spoken language worldwide, and though you may just about get by with only English, those that adopt such an attitude miss out on a variety of benefits. In this blog post, we look at why it’s absolutely worthwhile to learn a language and then provide some helpful tips on how to get the ball rolling.
Language Learning Deepens Your Understanding & Appreciation of Different Cultures
Learning a language opens up a whole new culture to you. Since language is such an integral part of a country’s culture, it is essential that you can interact in the local language if you want to gain deep insights into it. After all, being able to communicate in a language gives us access to the traditions, arts and history of the people associated with that language. Greater understanding, in turn, promotes greater tolerance, empathy and acceptance of others – something that is of increasing importance in today’s multicultural society. Studies show that children that have learned another language are more open toward and accepting of people from the culture associated with that language. Learning a language and living in another country really helps you see the world from the perspective of others.
Language Learning Keeps the Doctor Away
Learning and speaking a second language really can keep the doctor away! A number of studies have repeatedly demonstrated the cognitive benefits of learning a foreign language, regardless of how old you are. Known positive effects include memory improvement, better problem-solving, longer attention span, and a reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline. What’s more, recent research has shown that bilingualism can stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia by years. Irrespective of a person’s education, occupation or gender, bilingual respondents in the study linked above experienced the onset of Alzheimer’s, on average, 4.5 years later than monolingual respondents.
Language Learning Boosts Creativity
A fundamental aspect of learning languages is experimenting with new words and phrases, which helps to hone your creative skills. Speaking a second language forces you to reach for alternate words when you can’t remember the original one you wanted to use. It also improves your divergent thinking skills i.e. the ability to identify multiple solutions to a single problem. This article by Huffpost gives a very helpful overview of how learning a language can significantly boost creativity levels.
Language Learning Conquers Your Fear of Looking Stupid
Having learned multiple languages in a variety of contexts over the past ten years, one of the most important characteristics of a successful language learner is their willingness to make mistakes. Those that stay in their comfort zone are the ones that never really make progress.
After all, you don’t become fluent overnight! Learning a language can be very humbling, a bit like learning to drive a car. At the beginning, you feel useless and imagine you’ll never become proficient. However, over time your self-confidence increases and you are willing to try more adventurous things. When learning languages, I love to make mistakes, because a person who makes few mistakes makes little progress. Mistakes help you learn, and you need to be humble enough to accept correction and learn from them.
5 Quick Tips for Getting Started
- Visit the country and try to speak with locals. Even if it’s just learning how to order something in a restaurant, every little helps! An hour of conversation with a local will prove far more effective than 10 hours studying on your own.
- Speak from day one. Studies show that the most common 100 words generally account for 50% of a language, so don’t worry about not knowing many words – just keep speaking!
- Listen to the language everyday. There are so many resources out there that give you access to local TV or videos. You’ll be surprised how much you pick up.
- Find a way to make it fun. If you don’t enjoy learning languages, you’ll not have very much motivation to keep going after the first week. Play games, listen to songs, do whatever you like to incorporate the fun element.
- Don’t give up! Accept that you’re not going to become fluent overnight. It takes a long time to become fluent in a language. Set yourself small goals.