Growing up in Australia and America, English was the norm. We were half-heartedly taught the basics of our choice of language in school but unless you proved to be a pretty passionate and dedicated student, it was easily disregarded in exchange for a more “practical” subject like maths, science, etc.
Fast-forward to the present day where I am a 31 year old woman who speaks (rather excellent, if I do say so myself) English and “bits of” Spanish, French, and Solomon Island Pidgin. About 6 months ago I packed up and plopped down in Greece for a number of reasons and immediately began to learn the language, immersion-style.
Let’s take a moment to say that I picked one of the world’s most complex languages as my first foray into immersive learning with a goal to becoming fluent. Many people who live in Greece for decades still do not speak the language fluently. By all accounts it’s not something you can simply ‘learn by doing’ like, say, Solomon Island Pidgin.
Greek is hard as f*ck. And absolutely wonderful. I love the language. I love its complexities, history, nuances, and that every word has a story about where it came from and why it sounds and looks the way it does.
The slightly frustrating thing about all of this is that now, at 31 years old, I am only just discovering that I have quite a substantial helping of linguistic talent! I’m picking up Greek quickly and although my spoken abilities (grammar, grammar and more grammar) is coming along, I can understand a great deal of what I hear around me every day.
Where I’m going with all of this is – why the f*ck didn’t someone tell me how awesome learning a language is sooner?!
In many countries, children are taught 2 or 3 or even 4 languages from a young age when our brains are still flexible little information sponges. And by ‘taught’ I mean really concertedly taught to fluency by schools, private lessons, parents, and communities.
There is an enormous amount of research on why being multi-lingual is not only beneficial to us throughout life but also important for the human brain and cultural compassion.
Learning another language isn’t exactly like Julia Roberts eating and drinking Italian in Eat. Pray. Love. however it can be an excellent catalyst (and excuse) to pack up and spend some quality time experiencing another culture.
Here are 7 reasons why everyone should learn another language:
- It’s fun! Learning a language challenges your brain and your cultural awareness. To learn a new language you also gain insight into another culture and way of life. And as we all know, once you expand your horizons, you can never be the same.
- Multi-linguists are better skilled at multi-tasking and creative thinking according to a study from Penn State University. The ability to “juggle” between languages words, grammatical structures and nuances helps build and maintain the neural pathways that able us to complete simultaneous tasks.
- It is an excellent reason to spend an extended amount of time in a new country. This one is a no-brainer for anyone who needs a “reason” to go abroad for a longer period of time. “Why are you going to live in France, dear?” Easy and inevitably acceptable answer, “Well Dad, because I want to learn French!” (“Plus the men are gorgeous and romantic, the Champagne is way cheaper and it’s really far away from here…!”)
- The skills that develop while learning a foreign language equip your brain with better logic functions and decision-making abilities says research published in Sage Journals. These skills help us to handle and excel in new situations.
- Having multiple languages opens up entire areas of the world for you to explore. Imagine if you spoke, say Spanish, as well as English. There are 400 million native speakers of Spanish and 20 countries where it is the official language. Imagine how many friends are just waiting to be made in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico or Peru! Being able to communicate is so important when building relationships (take it from someone who’s faced the difficulties of not being able to communicate!) that speaking a common language with new friends is invaluable.
- A Swedish study found that the brain physically grows as it builds the structures necessary for language learning. Four parts of the brain including the hippocampus which is also the area responsible for spatial reasoning, physically changed during the study showing that our brains can keep growing and improving as we age.
- Speaking of ageing, learning a language is an excellent defence against Alzheimers! Published in ScienceDaily, this study showed that bilingual people saw the onset of Alzheimers five years later on average than people who only spoke one language.
So there you have it, 7 reasons to pick a language that sounds like music to your ears, or choose a culture that fascinates you, a place you’ve always felt drawn to, or simply spin the globe and buy a ticket to a linguistic adventure.
Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Have you traveled overseas to learn another language? Tell me about it in the comments!