40 Ways Learning a Second Language Can Change Your Life
As an Ontarian, learning a new language is a familiar concept.
From the ripe age of nine, most of us start learning the basics of French:
- how to say your name (je m’appelle Ryver);
- how to name the fruits (pomme, banane, orange);
- how to say your morning routine (je me brosse les dents, je m’habille, je me douche);
- and how to cuss (…okay, that one was just me).
After you reach high school, it stops becoming mandatory. Most people forget what reflexive verbs are or how to conjugate “être.” But the experience sticks with you forever.
Yet many people don’t decide to pursue a second language.
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1. There’s a pandemic, so who cares anyway
Ah, yes. That.
Pandemic = Staying home
And staying home means nowhere to bring your new skill. What’s the point of learning Mandarin if you can’t flout your superior knowledge every time you and your friends get Chinese takeout? Or learning Russian if you have no one to yell an angry “Nyet!” to?
2. It takes dedication
To learn a language, you’ve got to want it. Studying is boring, but you’ve got to put in the effort to achieve your goals.
If you’re stressed out and don’t have enough time, language learning is tough.
3. It’s tough
… and embarrassing, as most tough things are.
4. It takes time
Doing one Spanish lesson on Duolingo won’t suddenly make you an expert in Spanish linguistics. Heck, a year of Kwiziq can only get you so far. Truly learning a language involves reading, writing, listening, and speaking. To master all four skills, it takes patience.
Why invest so much time on a skill that may not be worth it?
By learning a new language, you can…
1. Visit new countries
It seems silly to think about during a pandemic. As I write this, many places are still on lockdown. But who’s to say it will last forever? (And if you’re reading this from the future, I sure hope you’re nodding vehemently along with my words, instead of weeping at my naivety.) Without at least some knowledge of the languages spoken in a foreign country, you’re susceptible to making many costly mistakes. You’ll be confused, and in the event of an emergency, you’ll be helpless. But by learning a new language, you’ll be less likely to put yourself at risk.
2. Experience new music
Music is a joy like no other. And usually, we listen to music in one language — our own. But delve deeper, and you will find powerful lyrics everywhere, in every language, about every topic. Some songs even have historical or cultural context that can help you learn more about a particular country or ethnicity. And some songs are just catchy!
3. Use just internet connection and a quiet space
Gone are the days where in-person tutelage was the only option. Nowadays, you can simply open an app like Duolingo or hire a virtual tutor on Verbling. Of course, having a real person to talk to always helps, especially since they can point out contextual or tonal mistakes. But when it comes to learning the basics, you’re pretty much covered.
4. Discover new expressions
Have you ever wanted to say, “mettre son grain de sel”? Probably not. But if you learn French, you might be able to!
5. Read new books
I’m addicted to books. I love getting lost in fantastic worlds and characters and conflicts.
When learning a new language, you can revisit simple kids’ storybooks in that language to help you learn. It seems a bit silly at first, but book-reading becomes a whole new experience when you start to learn another language.
Eventually, you may graduate to reading small chapter books and then full-length novels.
6. Watch new movies and TV shows
Okay, so maybe you’re not big on books. But what about film?
Sure, it might be weird for you at first to pick out a TV show and realize halfway through that you understand virtually nothing of the plot. Or you’ll find out how annoying translated subtitles can be.
But you can discover some pretty incredible foreign movies and TV shows if you look in the right places. If you’re learning Japanese, I’d recommend checking out some animes. If you’re learning Korean, I’d recommend a K-drama (The Uncanny Counter is a personal favorite of mine).
Entertainment is everywhere. With the right attitude (and Google search keywords), you’ll find exciting movies and shows in no time!
7. Discover small creators (YouTubers, bloggers, etc.)
Artists are everywhere. We are the writers, cartoonists, filmmakers, painters, graphic designers, and actors that make this world entertaining. And the internet has allowed us to grow on platforms wholly different from that of a decade or two ago. Why not check out people from other countries who have built viewership on platforms like YouTube or Instagram? At first, it may be difficult to follow everything native speakers say. But after practice, it can improve your listening skills and grow your perspective of the world.
For anyone interested in all sorts of language learning, I’d recommend Damon & Jo. I love watching their very educational and entertaining ‘French Friday’ segments.
Some other popular French YouTubers:
- Je ne suis pas jolie
- Osons Causer
These are just four of them, but the list is endless!
8. Meet new people
People are incredible. So why limit yourself to meeting only those who speak the same language as you? By meeting new people, you’re not only developing your social life. You’re expanding your network beyond the ordinary, giving yourself the chance to learn and receive help from others.
9. Open new job prospects
Employers want to hire people who take initiative in their lives. And learning a new language is part of that initiative. Especially if you are working in customer service, it always helps to have another language at your back, even if it’s not part of the job requirements.
10. Focus better
Distractions nowadays sit right at our fingertips, all day, every day. So it’s easy to see how vital focusing is. And language learning, as it turns out, can enhance your ability to focus. How neat is that?
11. Strengthen the connections in your brain
Focus and improved attention spans allow us to dive deep into the intricacies of our work. This leads to better performance and higher cognitive function!
12. Learn more about your own culture
Learning a language from your culture furthers your connection to it. It’s a big part of acknowledging and accepting your ancestry. Of course, you don’t necessarily need to learn the language to be part of a culture, but if it’s something you want to do… why not try?
13. Improve your memory
Achieving bilingualism exercises your memory, and strengthening it can benefit you in other parts of your life. It can even delay Alzheimer’s!
14. Learn more about your own (primary) language
Seriously. Did you know how many filler words we, like, use? And did you know that they have those, um, filler words in other languages too?
Or how about your intonation? Did you ever realize how nasal your voice is when you speak your language? Or how soft, or how deep?
It’s not just about the discovery of your primary language, per se, but rather an exploration of the entire way you speak. Where your tongue is placed, how your throat closes up on certain syllables, the raise in pitch or volume when you get upset. Every new thing I learn about my voice is eye-opening and brings me deeper into new cultures and forms of speech.
15. Better your ability to multitask
When someone speaks another language, you have to be able to process their words through your language rapidly. This continuous processing requires higher brain function and can help with your ability to multitask.
16. Grow humility and the ability to separate pride from learning
You’re likely to make loads of embarrassing mistakes when learning a new language. But that’s not a bad thing. It helps you grow a healthy sense of humility, and it gives you plenty of funny stories to share with friends!
17. Grow confidence
This point seems to contradict the last. But it’s totally possible to have a healthy sense of humility while also being confident. Although embarrassing at first, the mistakes you make can eventually help you feel more confident in your abilities. After all, knowing what not to do is an important step in knowing what to do.
18. Enhance your decision-making and critical thinking skills
Developing critical thinking skills is vital for success. But those skills generally involve one key component: ambiguity. One article even describes this as “the paradox mindset” — acknowledging two or more contradictory facts as both true rather than a black-and-white approach. For example, my friend can be a wonderful person but still say terribly hurtful things once in a while. The two facts don’t seem to line up (if she’s saying terribly hurtful things, doesn’t that make her a bad person?), but the scenario is possible.
Language teaches this ambiguity. The words hola and 안녕하세요(annyeonghasaeyo) both mean the same thing: hello, despite being spelled so differently. Exercising this part of your brain can lead to stronger problem solving and decision-making skills.
19. Strengthen your creativity
That’s right — learning a new language uses creativity! The learning process involves developing creative solutions for any problems you may run into. It may be difficult at first, but you’ll improve in time!
20. Gain new perspectives
That’s right. Language learning can change the way you think. Although languages across the world have many similarities, learning their differences is challenging and can lead to growth in perspective. It allows you to see the world differently.
For example, in English, we use SVO structure. The subject goes first, then the verb, then the object.
If I said, “A yellow elephant eats a can of beans,” the yellow elephant would be the subject, the verb would be “to eat,” and the object would be the can of beans. The way we speak is also littered with words like “the” and “a” and “of,” which some other languages don’t use.
This allows us to view the world differently from someone speaking a language with SOV structure.
Converting “A yellow elephant eats a can of beans” to SOV structure, while also taking out prepositions, would sound like:
“Yellow elephant can beans eats.”
This ambiguity leads to so many different ways of looking at real world situations, broadening your perception of reality.
21. Increase your empathy and compassion
Prejudice is built on ignorance. When we don’t understand something, we either view it as something inferior — or something to be feared. Learning a new language dispels those assumptions and builds you up into a better, more compassionate person.
This is also a result of the listening component of language learning. When we truly listen to another person, we don’t just hear words. We measure their voice’s inflection, facial expression, and body language. We’re searching for any hidden meanings or contexts. To do this, you have to put yourself in the speaker’s shoes.
And that, my friend, is exercising empathy.
22. Develop a more positive mindset
The confidence gained from learning a new language can help you be a more upbeat person in others’ lives. This doesn’t mean everything’s going to suddenly seem like it’s made of cupcakes and unicorn farts, but the experience you gain is valuable for constructively developing your character.
23. Strengthen your sense of global geography and politics
Learning a new language may inspire you to search for countries where they speak that language, as well as what’s going on in those countries. After all, you will probably come across many resources to learn about their culture — and part of culture is geographical location and political squabblings.
24. Access more research and different types of research
When you only speak one language, you’re limited to one set of media to pick at. When you start learning a new language, though, you open a gateway of possibilities. Why learn from just English studies and English magazines?
25. Improve your general communication skills
As your understanding of a different language increases, so does your understanding of your primary language. You may not realize it, but your ability to communicate your thoughts, ideas, and emotions shift to a higher level as your vocabulary strengthens.
26. Encourage constructive criticism of yourself, and self-improvement
Learning a new language helps you avoid letting your failures define you. Instead, you can look at those mistakes as opportunities to improve as a person.
27. Learn patience
Yeah, learning a new language takes a while. But the plus side is that you can learn and practice patience while you’re at it! It’s a skill that will follow you through all kinds of fields in life, not just in linguistics.
28. Learn persistence
When you can’t figure out the pronunciation of a particular verb or the strokes of a character, it’s easy to give up. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending an hour listening to something and only understanding a quarter of it. But to truly learn a language’s entirety, it takes persistence. Just like patience, it’s a skill that will follow you through all kinds of fields in life.
29. Stay motivated and determined
Learning new languages is fun and empowering. Even when things get irritating, the positive energy you will gain from persevering can translate into steady motivation in other parts of your life.
30. Become perceived as more interesting and impressive
But it’s true. Learning a new language adds a new layer of depth to your character. It proves that you are someone with interests and passions, and goals. You’re not just floating through life — you’re willing to learn and explore.
31. Become perceived as more attractive
Superficial, but true. Personality is a huge part of making relationships work, and learning a new language strengthens yours. It brings you the extra smidgen of confidence you might need to grow as a person.
32. Teach yourself to listen
Earlier, I mentioned four different components to learn a language: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Listening for the slight inflections in someone’s voice is an important skill — one that can give you a leg up in social and work situations. The nature of language learning allows you to develop that skill.
33. Raise your ambitions and aspirations
People who have learned a new language tend to be more motivated, which is a significant factor in developing resilience and achieving goals. You may find yourself opening up to experimentation as well.
34. Make your brain bigger (literally)
You don’t just gain better focus, cognitive function, and decision-making skills from language learning. Your brain actually grows!
In this Swedish study, researchers took two sets of students: one set achieving fluency in a new language, and the other studying science. The results were fascinating. In the science students, not much change was recorded. But in the language learning students, areas of both the hippocampus and cerebral cortex grew. These areas are used in learning and memorizing information, and their development can have long-lasting effects as you grow older.
35. Earn more money
It’s true! People who speak two or more languages tend to be paid more than monolinguals. Although some research indicates studying a second language can lead to 2% raise in annual income, other research suggests that the percentage can jump between 10 and 15%, depending on your situation. And learning a language like Chinese or Japanese can give you a huge leg up in the world of business and law.
36. Work better in teams
Being able to communicate respectfully and effectively with others is important for teamwork. As I mentioned in #32, communication doesn’t just involve speaking but listening. Learning a new language can help you on both fronts, which in turn leads to stronger teams.
37. Become more flexible and adaptable
Adapting quickly to learning Burmese doesn’t necessarily mean you will adapt quickly to a new job. But it helps your brain process significant change, which translates into flexibility when facing new and scary situations.
38. Enhance your musical ability
Many studies have been done on the relationship between musical ability and learning foreign languages because both require careful attention to sound. When you learn a foreign language, your musical aptitude increases… and vice versa. Being able to listen and reproduce a sound from another language with the correct pronunciation is a skill that translates into listening and reproducing sounds from music.
39. Learn even more new languages!
Once you’ve learned a second language, acquiring a third and fourth becomes easier. Learning a new language doesn’t just teach you about that specific language — it teaches you about all languages. Understanding different tenses and formalities and pronunciations in one language gives you skills that pass on when you learn another. For example, learning French gives you a huge leg up in Spanish, despite their many differences. Because French and Spanish are based in Latin (Romance languages), the roots of the words are often the same.
Escuela = École (School)
You will also be able to systematically go through the language without needing as much help. You’ll know to check out the most important verbs (to be, to have, and to do are usually at the top of the list) and to get the most basic tenses down first (present, past, and future). You may even have heard of concepts like the 80/20 rule at that point, which you can apply to your life to make the process even easier.
40. Acquire tremendous power
Bilingualism is becoming more and more common every day that goes by. Every year, month, and day, the world shifts a little. And with it, we adapt. Just a few decades ago, language learning was perceived as a useless — or even damaging — skill. Now we have so much research proving otherwise.
Sure, maybe you won’t morph into the next Superman by taking Spanish 101. But with the amazing nature of language and the right approach to learning it, your quality of life will improve.
Sometimes, that’s what tremendous power looks like.
When I started writing this article, I didn’t expect to get so invested in it. And I didn’t expect to learn something from it myself.
Although I’m no linguistics expert, I find an immense amount of joy in learning new languages. But at times I’ve felt discouraged, and this article has renewed my excitement.
If language learning is something you’ve wanted to do for a while, today is the best day to start. It always will be.
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