7 Surprising Benefits of Learning a New Language (Backed by Research)
There have been numerous studies pointing to the benefits of learning a new language. Yet, recent study shows that only 18% of Americans can fluently speak two or more languages.
Part of the reason is that learning a new language only becomes an interest to us once we reach adulthood, and we mistakenly think that it’s impossible to acquire a new language at a certain age. While it’s not a walk in the park, nearly anyone can learn a new language with a bit of motivation and diligence.
Some people have more aptitude for learning languages, including children, and we shouldn’t let it discourage us from continuing to improve.
“People vary in their aptitude like they do in learning math or in playing basketball,” — Dr. Robert DeKeyser, Professor of Second Language Acquisition
If you need more reasons to motivate yourself to learn a new language, here are 7 unusual benefits backed by science.
- You will improve your native languages
It’s only when we learn a new language, that we can appreciate the roots and fundamentals of our native language.
This is because we grew up speaking our native language, without much thought in terms of how sentence structures worked or breaking down the accents for each syllable.
It’s similar to playing basketball your whole life, then learning how to play volleyball, and using those skills to improve your basketball game.
“You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.” — Geoffrey Willans
- Enhances your focus
In a study, published online in the journal Brain and Language, individuals who spoke more than one language were observed through an fMRI, while performing word comprehension tasks.
Results showed that multi-lingual individuals were better at filtering out competing words than one-language speaking individuals. This ability to tune out competing words benefits in blocking out distractions to focus on the task at hand.
Luckily for us, studies have shown that even those of us with minimal knowledge of a secondary language can reap the advantages of these traits.
- Prevents common brain diseases
Hopefully non of us have to worry about this anytime soon, but aging is something that is common in all of us.
When it comes to the brain, learning a foreign language can prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by 4.5 years. This is a far more powerful than the best drugs which only delays the symptoms by 6–12 months.
The American Academy of Neurology has performed studies showing that speaking more than one language increases the amount of neural pathways in the brain, allowing information to be processed through a greater variety of channels.
- Improve your math skills
A powerful study was done at Massachusetts in 2007, where The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages stated that:
“Children who study a foreign language, even when this second language study takes time away from the study of mathematics, outperform students who do not study a foreign language and have more mathematical instruction during the school day.”
In another study published in the University of Michigan’s Language Learning journal (Armstrong and Rogers, 1997), students who studied just one semester of a foreign language for just 90 minutes per week scored significantly higher in maths and language arts.
In hindsight, this makes sense because learning the foundations of a new language involves logical and structural thinking. Memorization techniques, such as Mnemonics in language learning, can also play a big role in mathematics, as you need to memorize complicated equations on a frequent basis.
- Learn anything faster
In the same study done at Massachusetts in 2007, the researchers have concluded that the “exercise in cognitive problem solving” through language learning can be directly applied to anything we want to learn.
Your memory retention is also improved when you learn a new language. Absorbing and retaining more information can significantly shorten your learning curve, because you can spend more time learning new information instead of re-learning something you’ve already seen before.
Lastly, since distraction is inevitable in our learning journey, those who have the ability to multi-task and focus will have the upperhand. Bilinguals have been studied and reported to be better multi-taskers than the average individual.
- Become more outgoing and liked by others
Language learning is not only about speaking a new language, but it’s about experiencing a new culture.
The first reason is that meeting foreign people is embedded in the core of language learning. In order to practice and improve your new language, you’ll need to work with a native speaking teacher (or coach on Rype), use conversation exchanges, or attend language meetups. This is similar to how you need to just ride the bicycle instead of watching videos about it, its just part of the process.
The experience gained from speaking with language conversation partners is basically the same as meeting anyone. The skills of being outgoing and sociable are directly transferable to other areas of your life.
Most importantly, learning a language helps you step into the shoes of people different to yourself and see the world in a completely different perspective — therefore developing empathy for others.
The majority of conflicts between people in the world comes from lack of understanding the other side. Studying a new language not only helps you understand where the other person is coming from, but the cultural knowledge you gain can help the others feel more connected to you.
- Double your creativity
When speaking a new language, you’re often forced to think of an alternative word that you’re not used to using.
We often have to puzzle together words to form a sentence until it fits and makes sense to the other person. It improves your divergent think skills, training you to think of multiple solutions to problems on a consistent basis.
This “out of the box” experimentation practice is why researchers have concluded that multilingual individuals are more creative than monolingual individuals.
- It boosts your confidence level
When we set out to achieve something and find success, it boosts our confidence levels — no matter how small the success.
Even being able to carry a 30-second conversation with a native speaker can significantly make you more confident, because you know it’s something you wouldn’t have been able to do before.
This “yes, I can!” mentality will become your personal mantra, and can be applied to any goal you want to achieve in your life.
Author of Lean Forward, Eric Holtzclaw, has stated that even “a tiny change in your perspective that pulls you out of a funk and gives you the boost you need to take on that next challenge.”
“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”— E.E. Cummings
Over to you
Which of these amazing benefits we mentioned gives you the most motivation to learn a new language? Is there any other great benefits that we have missed? Please share with us in the comments!