Top Ten Reasons to Learn Languages
You’ve heard all the reasons why some people don’t learn languages, many of these founded on long-held myths and misconceptions. The truth is, in today’s increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, proficiency in other languages is a vital skill that gives you the opportunity to engage with the world in a more immediate and meaningful way—whether in your neighborhood or thousands of miles away—while better preparing you to compete and succeed in the global economy.
Here Are Our Top Ten Reasons to Learn Languages:
One of the most rewarding aspects of the human experience is our ability to connect with others, and how better than through the immediacy of language? Bilinguals have the unique opportunity to communicate with a wider range of people in their personal and professional lives. Knowing the language makes you a local no matter where you are, opening up your world literally and figuratively. You will be shaped by communities. You will be humbled by the kindness of strangers. You will build lifelong friendships. And for these reasons alone, you will see the reward of learning languages for many years to come.
2. Advance your career.
Language skills can be a significant competitive advantage that sets you apart from your monolingual peers. With languages among the top eight skills required of all occupations—no matter your sector or skill level—the demand for bilingual professionals is rising exponentially. In fact, between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. job postings specifically geared toward bilingual candidates more than doubled.1 Employers are seeking professionals who can communicate seamlessly with customers in new and expanding overseas markets, as well as serve and sell to a large foreign-born population here at home. With more than 60 million American residents who speak a language other than English at home, you don’t need to leave your community to put your language skills to work.2 As an added incentive, in many instances, language skills also lead to hiring bonuses and increased salaries. Whatever your career aspiration—with language skills added to the mix, you’re ahead of the crowd!
3. Feed your brain.
The many cognitive benefits of learning languages are undeniable. People who speak more than one language have improved memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration, ability to multitask, and better listening skills. They switch between competing tasks and monitor changes in their environment more easily than monolinguals, as well as display signs of greater creativity and flexibility. If that weren’t enough, as we age, being bilingual or multilingual also helps to stave off mental aging and cognitive decline.
4. Deepen your connection to other cultures.
Language is the most direct connection to other cultures. Being able to communicate in another language exposes us to and fosters an appreciation for the traditions, religions, arts, and history of the people associated with that language. Greater understanding, in turn, promotes greater tolerance, empathy, and acceptance of others—with studies showing that children who have studied another language are more open toward and express more positive attitudes toward the culture associated with that language.
5. See the world.
Traveling as a speaker of the local language can revolutionize a trip abroad. While monolingual travelers are capable of visiting the same places, high-interaction settings such as markets, performance halls, restaurants, and public transportation come to life for those who are able to interact directly with locals. Bilingual travelers are more easily able to navigate outside the tourist bubble and often benefit from candid suggestions and anecdotes not shared with their English only-peers. A second language also opens additional doors to opportunities for studying or working abroad.
6. Go to the source.
When you speak and read only one language, you have no choice but to rely on the information given to you by others. Of course, in a world of more than 6,000 spoken languages, we sometimes require translation, but speaking at least one additional language empowers us to access information that would otherwise be off-limits. For example, bilingual individuals are able to search the Internet as genuine global citizens—consuming and assessing information in the languages in which it was written.
7. Become a polyglot.
Not only does learning a second language improve communication skills and multiply vocabulary in your first language—yes, really!—but research shows that it makes picking up additional languages a much easier feat, especially among children.3
That’s because when you learn a new language, you develop new brain networks that are primed and ready when you embark on learning a third language.
8. Boost your confidence.
Any language learner can attest to making his or her share of mistakes while navigating new vocabulary, grammar rules, and sometimes even a new alphabet—always in front of an audience. Making mistakes is a necessary part of the learning process. Learning a language means putting yourself out there and requires moving out of your comfort zone. The sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when conversing proficiently in that new language with native speakers is without equal.
9. Strengthen your decision making.
Studies show that decisions made in your second language are more reason-driven than those made in your native language.4 Contrary to popular assumptions, when we deliberate in a second or third language, we actually distance ourselves from the emotional responses and biases deeply associated with our mother tongue. The result? Systematic and clear-headed decisions based on just the facts.
10. Step back for perspective.
As we explore a new language and culture, we naturally draw comparisons to what is most familiar. Learning about another culture sheds light on aspects of our own language and culture—both positive and negative—we may not have previously considered. You may find a greater appreciation for what you have, or you may decide to shake things up and discover an entirely new language and culture.