To begin, I want to state as a disclaimer that I work for Rosetta Stone as a Sales Associate in the Kenwood mall in Cincinnati, OH. Rosetta Stone is a software program that allows users to learn a new language. That being said, my interest in language learning began long before I began working for Rosetta Stone. I bought a program to teach myself German when I was in junior high, and I studied Spanish throughout my college career, before learning French with the Rosetta Stone as an employee.
Learning a second language can have a great deal of advantages. Here, I present two distinct sets of advantages that come with learning a second language. General advantages are the reasons that anyone can think of for learning a second language, and they are repeated so often that they sometimes lose their effect on people. Specific advantages talks about three reasons for learning a new language that you may not have heard about before, and examples.
Here is a list of some of the advantages of learning a language that anyone who has ever tried to get you to try one had told you. Not to downplay these, they are all very good reasons and I personally find a lot of these things very important. However, the fact that these are so often put forth makes them somewhat less effective. (Most of these are compiled from three lists, which can be accessed through the “Sources” section of this article)
Learning a new language…
- Positively effects intellectual growth
- Gives more flexibility in thinking
- Makes you a better listener
- Improves your understanding of your native language
- Allows you to communicate with people you couldn’t before
- Opens the door to other cultures and to appreciating the differences between people of the world
- Saves you money in college if there is a language requirement
- Increases your marketability as an employee
- Allows you more places to live and visit
- Can be used it to talk to your friends in secrecy
- Can be the first step in getting in touch with your cultural roots
- Can allow you to experience a much greater range of cultural aspects, like literature and arts, in their original form
- Makes studying abroad easier and more rewarding
- Can make you sound smart, sexy, or tough, depending on the language
- Shows respect to friends, business associates, family members, etc. who speak another language natively
- Increases your confidence in your ability to try and succeed at new things
- Allows you to view the world in a larger context
- Specific Advantages
- Delaying Dementia
Studies have shown that learning a second language can not only help prevent (or at least slow) the effects of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s, but it can also help your brain function better once the disease has set in. The article I cite here is from National Geographic, but a quick internet search will reveal dozens of articles that talk about how bilingualism can combat the effects of diseases and condition which impair the mind later in life. Studies also show that even if the physical effects of Alzheimer’s are worse on the brain of a bilingual person, that person’s brain can function as effectively as that of a person who speaks one language but has less physical brain damage.
Only one of my grandparents spoke a second language. My grandfather on my mom’s side was raised in a German-speaking house, because his parents were born in Germany. As my grandparents got older during my life (two of them are no longer with us) it became clear that my grandfather who knows German has remained the sharpest. I never really made the connection until I sat down to write this article, but now I see a strong correlation.
Creating A Deeper Cultural Experience
This goes much deeper than the general statement of exploring a new culture. When you travel, being able to speak the local language can make the experience much easier and more culturally enriching. Connecting with the locals in their own tongue not only allows you to have a much richer experience than a mere site-seer, but it also makes the experience better for the others involved. As Nelson Mandela 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.” (Omniglot.com article)
When I studied in Luxembourg for a semester, being able to do simple things like greet and ask prices of things with local store and bar owners made all the difference in the world. My roommate and I spoke at length in Spanish to a local bar-owner, a Portuguese lady who sang on the weekends. My friend even became such a good friend of another bar owner that he was invited to family dinner more than once, and that whole relationship started because he was not only willing but excited to use his language skills abroad. At one point, I was asked in French by a local on the train about the stops, and when I responded in French he simply said “Merci.” The fact that he did not make a big deal of my ability to speak was the biggest compliment, because I felt that he thought I was a local! You can’t get much deeper into a culture than that!
Creating Smarter Kids
Studies show that when kids learn a second language early on, they become smarter in a very practical sense. By understanding two languages, the kids become better and being able to both keep things separated in their minds and see where the similarities in things that seem different lay. This may not seem huge to some, but it is the most essential part of not only learning, but of creating new knowledge, a process we all go through which gives us a deeper understanding of the material and situations in front of us every day. Studies also show that this process can begin as early as when the child is in the womb, and that exposure to multiple languages while in the womb has only positive effects on the child’s overall development and ability to speak the native language of its parents.
When I helped teach English to native Spanish-speakers, I noticed that the kids were often much farther along than their parents. Most noticeable was how sharp and driven the bilingual kids were. They were not as structurally educated as many equal-aged children with American parents, but their ability to learn new things and understand things within their larger context was outstanding.