Why should you learn a second language?
There are several obvious reasons. It’s fun and it allows you to communicate with people from other countries. If you’re going to travel abroad, you probably need at least basic language skills.
But there are a number of other surprisingly powerful benefits from learning a second language. Most people are unaware of these benefits.
If you need yet another reason to study a second language, pay attention. You’re about to discover 12 surprising benefits of studying a second language.
BENEFIT #1: It Forces You To Think Deeply
Learning a second language forces you to think in new ways. You’re forced to grapple with grammar rules, word meaning, prefixes, suffixes, and a host of other new challenges. This sustained thinking develops your ability to think deeply, express concepts in new ways, and solve problems from new angles. Learning a second language teaches to you to think in ways you’ve never traditionally done.
BENEFIT #2: Your Ability To Switch Between Tasks Is Increased
Switching between tasks can be hugely challenging if you’re not used to it. It requires disengaging from one activity, switching to a new mindset, and then fully engaging in a different activity. As the American Psychological Association wrote:
[A]lthough switch costs may be relatively small, sometimes just a few tenths of a second per switch, they can add up to large amounts when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks. Thus, multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error. Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.
When you learn a second language, you become much more proficient at switching between tasks and the toll on your productivity is significantly minimized.
BENEFIT #3: Your Brain Becomes More Resistant To Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Believe it or not, learning a second language can significantly delay the onset of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. This has been proven in several multilingual studies.
Speaking of one particular study, Alissa Sauer wrote:
After evaluating the participants, researchers found that those who spoke a second language delayed certain types of dementia by an average of 4.5 years. There was no additional benefit to those who spoke more than two languages and education, gender, and occupation had no effect on the delay.
Alzheimer’s is one of the leading killers in the United States and is a terrible disease. It is, essentially, a slow death. Being able to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s for even a year is significant, but for 4.5 years is an enormous benefit.
BENEFIT #4: Memory Is Significantly Improved
Memory is, in many ways, like a muscle. It is strengthened by working out. One unfortunate downside of the internet is that it has significantly weakened our memories. We can simply search for whatever we want with zero need to remember anything.
Learning a second language forces you to work your memory on a regular basis. It forces you to think hard about things and to store things in your short term and long term memory.
The Journal Of Experimental Psychology reported that bilingual children consistently outperform monolingual children in tasks requiring working memory.
If you find your memory slipping, making the effort to learn a second language can be a huge step in the right direction.
BENEFIT #5: Increased Creativity
It’s no secret that trying to speak a foreign language forces you to put language together in creative ways. This stimulates your brain and boosts your creative capacity. Once your creative juices are flowing, they will spill over into many other aspects of your life, such as your relationships and your livelihood. And as some suggest, being creative can even make you happier.
BENEFIT #6: Intelligence Is Increased
This sounds like infomercial hype, but there is legitimate scientific researching backing this benefit. It turns out that learning a second language has been shown to raise overall intelligence levels and reading levels.
This has broad implications. If you just want to be generally smarter (and who doesn’t?), you should consider learning a new language. And, if you or your child struggles with reading, adopting a second language can be a powerful boost.
No, learning a second language won’t turn you into a genius, but it can up your overall intelligence levels.
BENEFIT #7: Decision Making Skills Are Improved
One of the biggest hindrances to making good decisions is biases. Our biases cloud our judgment and can lead us to choose poorly when presented with a multitude of options.
Learning a second language has been shown to reduce our “heuristic biases”, which is one of the key factors in decision making. In other words, when we are presented with a series of choices, we are less reliant on our inherent (and often faulty) biases. Instead, we are able to choose based more on logic than gut feelings.
Heuristics are the series of simple rules we use to evaluate decisions. These consist of mental shortcuts that focus on a single issue of a complex problem and ignore other factors. For example, when asked if more English words begin with “K” or have “K” as the third letter, we instinctively choose the first option because it’s easy to think of words that begin with “K”. In reality, there are three times as many words with “K” as the third letter, demonstrating that our heuristics are helpful but often misleading.
Learning a second language forces you to think more carefully through problems, which in turn reduces your vulnerability to your instinctive, heuristic biases.
If you regularly find yourself making poor choices, learning a second language could be a lifesaver.
BENEFIT #8: Your Primary Language Skills Are Improved
One of the side benefits of learning a second language is that your primary language skills are also improved. Studying a second language forces you to think through things like vocabulary, conjugation, conversation, idioms, and a host of other things that we rarely think about when speaking our primary language.
Often, a person learning a second language becomes much more attuned to the nuances of the first language. They pick up on subtle things they never would have seen before and often develop a deeper understanding of the language.
While this may not be high on your language priority list, it certainly is a significant benefit.
BENEFIT #9: Increased Skill In Other Subject Matters
Interestingly, studying languages seems to increase other academic abilities such as mathematics. Studies have shown that individuals with a second language tend to perform better on standardized testing like the SAT.
The Center For Languages, Literature, and Culture at Ohio State University wrote:
Research has shown that math and verbal SAT scores climb higher with each additional year of foreign language study, which means that the longer you study a foreign language, the stronger your skills become to succeed in school. Studying a foreign language can improve your analytic and interpretive capacities. And three years of language study on your record will catch the eye of anyone reading your job or college application.
If you want to improve your mathematical ability, one surprising way to do it may be by learning a second language.
BENEFIT #10: Deeper Understanding Of Other Cultures
We often fail to realize how much our language influences our view of the world and other people. Immersing yourself in a foreign language opens new vistas and viewpoints. It allows you to understand other perspectives and embrace views other than your own.
Additionally, when you spend months learning about another culture, it’s difficult to be prejudiced against that culture. Suffice to say, one way to increase compassion and inclusiveness in the world would be to have everyone study a second language.
BENEFIT #11: Increased Career Options
We are increasingly living in a multicultural world. Companies open offices overseas, and remote jobs with foreign companies are being created. The need for bilingual individuals is greater than ever.
Learning a second language can, in many ways, double the number of career options available to you. You literally expand your job pool by multiple countries. Additionally, learning a second language can allow you to climb the career ladder faster. Positions within your company that were previously unavailable suddenly are within reach.
BENEFIT #12: Better Concentration Skills
Learning a second language has been shown to significantly improve a person’s ability to concentrate, particularly in environments with many stimuli (think school, dorm, etc.). The reason for this may surprise you. When speaking, bilinguals are constantly juggling two languages in their heads. The primary language is activated and the secondary language must be suppressed.
This constant juggling improves the brain’s ability to focus on one thing while tuning out other things. As one study noted:
The need to constantly control two languages confers advantages in the executive system, the system that directs cognitive processing. These effects have been demonstrated primarily using visual stimuli and are heightened in children and older adults. Specifically, bilinguals, relative to monolinguals, are better able to monitor conflicting sensory information and tune into a relevant stimulus or stimulus features amid irrelevant information, via a process known as inhibitory control.
In other words, knowing two languages increases a person’s ability to concentrate on one thing and ignore irrelevant information.
If you struggle with concentration, consider learning a second language!
Learning a second language is beneficial on so many levels. It increases your intelligence, improves your understanding of the world, and opens up new career options for you. It improves your cognitive skills and helps you be more sympathetic to other cultures.
Frankly, this is one of those subjects that has very little downside and tremendous upside. In addition to the benefit of learning a second language, you become a much more rounded person.
Do you see the power of a second language? Now’s the time to get started learning one.