Three Reasons to Study a Second Language
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UK School Standards Minister Nick Gibb announced last month plans for England’s first modern foreign language center for excellence. It aims to introduce more young people to foreign languages, in line with the government’s strategy to “build a nation of confident linguists.” The UK is hardly alone when it comes to introducing initiatives aimed at boosting multilingualism. So if you have been thinking of studying a foreign language, there’s no better time than now to start! Read on for a closer look at three reasons why speaking multiple languages can open doors for you, personally and professionally.
1. Your brain function will improve.
According to a growing body of evidence, learning a second language significantly improves the way your brain works.
Specifically, researchers have determined that young adults who are proficient in at least two languages performed better than their peers on attention and concentration tests. Also, regardless of when they had learned the second language, these benefits were retained. Researchers posit that these positive effects continue for people learning languages at older ages, too. Other research links learning a second language with everything from improvements in reading, verbal fluency, intelligence, and delaying the onset of dementia.
Dr. Ellen Bialystok, a professor and bilingualism expert in Toronto, told LiveScience, “Nothing I can think of is more difficult or more cognitively engaging than trying to learn another language. [It is] an excellent activity to maintain cognitive function.”
2. Your career prospects will skyrocket.
“The Army, NYPD and State Department can't get enough workers with this job skill. Neither can Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, local courts and schools. What is it? Fluency in a foreign language,” reports CNN. And while we often think of tech skills as the golden ticket for in-demand Silicon Valley jobs, knowing a second language is also an invaluable skill in that sector.
Not only do many tech employers prize workers with second languages, having a second language also gives you the possibility of work in other locations. “Tech jobs are up for grabs all over the world and the industry is going through a global talent shortage so, if you were ever considering relocating, having another language will open even more doors for you,” asserts Siliconrepublic.com.
Employment opportunities for translators and interpreters have also been on the rise across a breadth and depth of industries. In the US, for example, the number of people working as translators and interpreters more than doubled in the decade between 2008 and 2017. And demand shows no signs of slowing. The projected rate of growth between 2016 and 2026 is 18 percent -- far outpacing the average for other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And then there’s the fact that learning a second language speaks to your willingness to try new things -- always a trait employers look kindly upon.
3. You will become more culturally understanding.
Whether you’re hoping for an international career or merely looking to satisfy your wanderlust, acquiring a second language offers new perspectives on the world. Marc Jacobsen, an Air Force pilot studying Arabic in Jordan, cited the ability to listen to and understand different people as one to the secondary benefits of bilingualism.
“If we want to make informed policy in cross-cultural contexts, we need to humanize and understand the "other" — which includes both our allies and our enemies. We do not have to agree with each other, but we need to listen long enough to genuinely understand each other’s narratives. Being in a foreign language environment forces you to concentrate and listen, especially because you probably lack the language skill to respond as you wish,” Jacobsen asserts.
Operating in uncertain environments also becomes more manageable when you know the local language, according to Jacobsen. Or at least, you become more level-headed if and when unfamiliar situations arise. “You learn to control negative emotional responses like fear, anger, or frustration. Fortunately, you do acclimate to this uncertainty. You learn to be patient, cool, and observant,” he continues.
Jacobsen also points to the impact of studying a second language on your awareness of your own communication skills, “You learn to appreciate people who speak clearly, slowly, and in a direct way. You are frustrated by those who speak quickly and use lots of slang or jargon. As your ear gets attuned to these characteristics, you begin to analyze your own speech — and the speech of other Americans — when they speak English to non-native speakers. You gain a feel for when a message is being successfully transmitted, and when it’s not.”
In doing so, you become an ambassador -- and a bridge to better cross-cultural communication.
One last thing to keep in mind about learning a second (or third, or fourth...) language is that, while doing so can be challenging, the more you want to succeed, the easier it becomes!
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.