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Seven reasons to learn a new language

Our founder, Angela Mortimer, looks at the personal and professional benefits of learning a new language…

I have lived in Paris, Naples, Geneva and La Reunion and this was all thanks to studying languages – it really is a fantastic excuse to see the world! Speaking the native language is practical (you can ask for directions) and sociable (you can ask for wine) and I have made some excellent international friendships. I have tried some delicious food (which I like to think that I can now cook myself almost just as well) and have learnt some invaluable life skills whilst living abroad. I have gained a lot of confidence and have had a lot of career opportunities open up to me thanks to my languages. But, as I said, learning a foreign language is more than just a boost to your CV or handy for travelling. It will make you smarter, more decisive and even better at English.

Physiological studies have found that speaking two or more languages is a great asset to the cognitive process. The brains of bilingual people operate differently from those of single language speakers, and these differences offer several mental benefits, seven of which I have listed below;

You become cleverer: Students who study foreign languages tend to score better on standardised tests than their monolingual peers, particularly in the categories of maths, reading, and vocabulary. Speaking a foreign language improves the functionality of your brain by challenging it to recognise, negotiate meaning, and communicate in different language systems. This skill boosts your ability to negotiate meaning in other problem-solving tasks as well.

You improve your communication and listening skills: Learning a foreign language draws your focus to the mechanics of language: grammar, conjugations, and sentence structure, making you more aware. These skills can make you a more effective communicator and a sharper editor and writer. Language speakers also develop a better ear for listening, since they’re skilled at distinguishing meaning from discreet sounds.

You build multitasking skills: Multilingual people learn to switch between two or more systems of speech, writing, and structure. According to a study from the Pennsylvania State University, this “juggling” skill makes them good multi-taskers, because they can easily switch between different structures.

You become more perceptive: A study from Spain’s University of Pompeu Fabra revealed that multilingual people are better at observing their surroundings. They are more adept at focusing on relevant information and editing out the irrelevant.

You become more decisive: According to a study from the University of Chicago, bilinguals tend to make more rational decisions. Any language contains nuance and subtle implications in its vocabulary, and these biases can subconsciously influence your judgment. Bilinguals are more confident with their choices after thinking it over in the second language and seeing whether their initial conclusions still stand up.

Your memory improves: Studies show that languages can benefit your day to day memory and that bilinguals are better at retaining shopping lists, names and directions. Educators often liken the brain to a muscle because it functions better with exercise. Learning a language involves memorising rules and vocabulary, which helps strengthen that mental “muscle.”

You stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia: Several studies have been conducted on this topic and the results are consistent. For monolingual adults, the mean age for the first signs of dementia is 71.4. For adults who speak two or more languages, the mean age for those first signs is 75.5.

Suzanne Graham, a professor of language and education at the University of Reading, states; “It’s a myth that everyone in the world speaks English – in fact, it’s estimated that 75% of the world’s population speaks no English at all.” 2016 was a year of uncertainty and surprise and language specialists feel that more and more British students could now opt out of studying a second language. However, language skills could now be more useful than ever! Although the EU Commission has confirmed that English will remain an official language of the European Union Brits possessing foreign language skills may be more useful than ever, for trade and negotiation, for example. Graham also states that “languages make people more broadminded and tolerant,” she says. “This is especially important in the post-Brexit climate” and so learning another language really will give you more options.

Many of these listed attributes are only apparent in people who speak multiple languages regularly. However, people who begin language study in their adult lives can still achieve the same levels of fluency as a young learner, and still reap the same mental benefits too – so it isn’t too late! With today’s technology it has never been easier to learn a second language! Apps such as Duolingo, the most popular free language learning app, has 120 million users spanning every country on the planet, but there are many more including Livemocha and Memrise. There really is no excuse!