How many languages do you speak?
One? Is it English? That was me for a long time, but I learned that pursuing a second language has enormous benefits – and I want to share those with you! Read on to see what you can gain from learning languages, and to gain a few tricks to make it easy.
Learning languages has become one of my favorite pursuits!
I grew up in a small-town on coastal North Carolina. My high school made us take a couple Spanish or French classes, but it was easy enough to pass the tests by memorizing the words and then promptly forgetting them. So that’s what I did. When I graduated college, the only language I spoke was English.
Then, I entered the “real world.” I began a career in Civil Engineering, a field in which many of the workers were Mexican. Sure, they communicated fine in English, but I found that when I interacted with them in Spanish they became more motivated, friendly, and open to my ideas. Imagine that! So I began learning Spanish. For real this time. After I left Engineering and entered the world of Business, I worked in Mexico City, where I would have missed many of the most delightful aspects of Distrito Federal had I not learned to speak the language!
After that, I became hooked on language learning, and Spanish was only the beginning. I also traveled to Germany and worked there for some time, so I began to practice German. I still practice Spanish and German daily. After I added a second language to my studies, I discovered a cool synergy: once you learn one new language, the next one gets even easier!
The times they are a-changin’.
With a steady influx of immigrants from all parts of the world, America plays host to a plethora of polyglots. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, the 2013 census found that “a record 61.8 million U.S. residents (native-born, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants) spoke a language other than English at home.”
That’s 21% of the US Population! And from 2010 to 2013, the largest increases in US numbers were speakers of Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic.
And yet, you still speak just one language?
But Americans still aren’t learning languages. “Only 7 percent of college students in America are enrolled in a language course,” states this article in The Atlantic. Let’s face it – “Learning a foreign language a ‘must’ in Europe, not so in America.”
But let’s change that. If you aren’t already, start learning a second language today! Here are just a few of the benefits…
3 Practical Reasons to learn languages beyond English
Experience the World in a Whole New Way!
Obviously, if you learn another language, you will benefit while traveling. People are delighted if you can even utter a few words of their mother-tongue – it shows that you care enough to try. I remember my trip to Instanbul, Turkey when I made an effort before traveling to learn a bit of the language. Good thing I did, or I would have never understood what that Turkish fortuneteller was trying to warn me about (check out the picture at the end).
I’ve found that after you make an effort at their language, those met on the road in this fashion will happily tell you about places the guide books don’t know about. Not only that, when you learn a language, you learn about the culture behind it. Here’s a discussion about the link between language and culture.
Learn a second language to experience culture and make new friends!
Be a Better Employee or Entrepreneur!
When I worked in Germany, I often found myself trapped in an English bubble as my coworkers buddied up to the bosses in German. I wish I’d known then what I know now!
Whether you are self-employed or seeking your next rung on the corporate ladder, there is no better skill to have than a second language. There are the obvious reasons, such as communicating with foreign clients and coworkers, signaling your ability to learn and understand new concepts, and setting yourself apart as someone having dedication and ambition. But studies also show that “thinking in a foreign tongue reduces decision biases.”
Learn a second language to bolster your business skill set!
Use Your Brain, and Live Happier and Healthier for Longer!
Studying a second language increases your intelligence and can help you keep it for longer. Consider this: Students who speak a second language regularly score on average 50 to 100 points higher on the SAT than the average across all students.
And studying language can help prevent loss of brain power over time. Several studies have shown that learning a second language has a positive effect on your brain’s “white matter,” and can help slow or even prevent deterioration as you age. According to this study, “Bilingualism appears to provide a means of fending off a natural decline of cognitive function and maintaining what is called cognitive reserve.”Study participants who developed Alzheimer’s disease did so an average of 5.1 years later if they spoke more than one language.
Learn a second language to live smarter, longer!
Ok I’m Convinced! But What’s the Easiest Way to Learn a Language?
Learning a second language is neither difficult nor time-consuming. Unless you are planning to pursue a technical field where you will work solely in that foreign language, you don’t need to learn every word. Tim Ferris, a lifestyle experimenter, points out that you only need a limited number of words to gain conversational fluency. I can tell you from first-hand experience – he’s absolutely right!
A quick Google search will give you more tools than you can imagine, many of which are free! But it can all be overwhelming. Here are a few tools and tricks that I have found effective:
Use Apps like Duolingo and Memrise daily to get repetitions
There are many great apps to help you practice language on a daily basis – I personally like Duolingo and Memrise. Both free and both effective. Also, neither consume much time. But try services out and find the best one for you – just DON’T PAY A DIME FOR ANY LANGUAGE CLASSES.
There are so many solid, free apps that it seems ridiculous to consider paying for any services early on. Note: I’m not saying language classes can’t help along the way – they could be invaluable for learning grammar. That said, when you are pursuing basic conversational fluency, you primarily need vocab and basic grammar. That part is free!
When just starting out, the best practice you can get is daily repetition. I do my 20 minutes on Duolingo when I am spacing out in front of the TV or waiting in line somewhere.
Listen to, watch, and read stuff in your chosen language
Even if you don’t understand the words, you will find that if you dedicate just 30 minutes a day (I do this before I go to bed) to immersing yourself in a language, your eyes and ears will gradually become used to the sights and sounds of the words and syntax. Your daily practice will become easier, and your learning will accelerate.
So pop in that Lion King DVD, head to the language menu, sit back, and enjoy “El Rey Leon!”
Speak with people, be proud of your progress, and laugh at your mistakes
Whenever possible, immerse yourself in the language by speaking with real people! You don’t have to travel all the way to Spain to practice your Spanish. Head down to the local Taquería and challenge yourself to complete your order in Spanish. You might stumble, and the guy behind the counter might get a laugh out of it. But if so, you will have won twice – you practiced your language AND you brightened someone’s day.
Remember to have a sense of humor about your language studies. Embrace the mistakes and laugh when you slip up – this is all part of the process. At the end of the day, you will get the last laugh anyway, when your brain lasts longer than all those monolinguists!
Thanks for stopping by!
I hope that this article has convinced you to set aside those English-only ways and pick up at foreign language phrasebook. Please feel free to use the comments. Let me know what you are studying, and if you have some cool tricks or tips to share, let me know those as well! I am always looking for new ways to amp up my language learning.
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Auf Wiedersehen! Hasta luego!