Learn a foreign language
I never was that interested in learning languages. In fact, at school, I dropped French and German as soon as possible. I did that because my grades in mathematics, chemistry, economy, and physics were better.
I never found the need to practice foreign languages. I live in Europe and regularly visit other European countries. I manage to get by with English and a little rudimentary German and French.
But as I get older, I want to spend more time in, for instance, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Furthermore, I want to immerse myself more in those different cultures. And being able to understand their language is an essential part of that.
What are other benefits of learning a language, you might ask? I came up with the following benefits.
You gain more self-confidence and have more fun
Learning a foreign language boosts your self-confidence.
– You can make new friends
– You can understand movies without subtitles
– You can even help tourists when they ask you for directions.
Compliments, admiration, and sometimes even applause are pleasant side effects. This will certainly boost your self-confidence. Being able to have a conversation in another language will add to the fun of interacting with others.
You will improve your decision-making skills
Research indicates that bilinguals make more rational decisions.
In a study, researchers found that people make more rational decisions when they think through a problem in a non-native tongue.
Each language contains nuance and subtle implications in its vocabulary. These subtle biases can influence your judgment.
Bilinguals are more confident in their choices.
- First, they make a choice using their first language.
- Then they reconsider their decision in the second language.
- Finally, they consider whether their original conclusions still hold.
You increase your thinking skills
According to a psychologist at York University in Toronto, Ellen Bialystok, learning another language can boost your thinking ability.
Researchers at University College London studied the brains of 105 individuals, 80 of whom were bilingual.
They found that learning other languages alters gray matter. Gray matter is the brain area where the information process takes place in the same way that muscles are trained.
Not only do you create new opportunities by learning a new language, but you also get smarter!
Learning a new language strengthens your brain. Your memory improves, which is an excellent advantage if you have to study for a test or lose your keys. That extra brainpower also helps you make decisions faster. How cool is that?
You can get off the beaten path
When you learn a new language, your vacations become much more fun. Even with basic language skills, you can get off the beaten path.
- You might even experience the adventure of a lifetime.
- You’ll discover a different, more authentic side of the country.
- You’ll make new friends.
- You’ll be able to take cooler photos to make your old friends jealous.
Travel As Much As You Can
While it is possible to travel to other countries without speaking the language, your experience is largely shaped by your ability to experience the culture profoundly or not.
When you cannot communicate in the indigenous language, you cannot fully participate in everyday life, understand the culture, or communicate with the people. The language barrier can range between very frustrating or even life-threatening.
Learning Chinese in China will give you the advantage of finding your way around various situations. You can think of things like:
- ordering meals at a restaurant
- asking and understanding directions
- finding accommodation
- negotiating prices
- meeting and speaking with locals.
In most countries, people will appreciate it if you try to speak their language. You will be able to communicate with them better and have a pleasanter time as a result.
It is true that in tourist areas people often speak English. Still, even if the locals speak English, many often feel uncomfortable, especially when you go beyond the typical tourist talk.
These well-trodden tourist areas are often not the places you want to go to get to know the country. These cater to the tourists and offer a watered-down, often stereotyped, and commercialized version of the culture. They do this because they try to take advantage of and meet the tourists’ expectations.
If you plan to stray from the tourist spots and explore the country, you need to know the language. Your language skills will allow you to do and see things that other visitors mostly do not.
I live in the Netherlands. We are a small country surrounded by powerful neighbors. Because we are known as a trading nation, a lot of attention is paid to language learning. To get on well with our neighbors.
But apart from being necessary sometimes, it can also just be fun to speak a foreign language.
You will find the world is waiting for you
A foreign language allows you to live, work or study in another country. Did you always dream of opening a café in Paris or being accepted into an American university? Learning to speak the language is the first step to making that dream a reality.
Accents are sexy. Everything sounds better when you say it with an accent. You can read up the phone book and still sound cute. So show off your new language skills loud and clear and try to chat yourself out of that parking ticket.
You make international friends.
It’s eye-opening, but language is essential for communication. It can be a fun challenge to make yourself clear using gestures, but you still need some form of language for a more in-depth conversation.
I noticed this myself last summer when I traveled through Germany. Many Germans speak English. And yes, of the little German that I learned in high school, nothing much was left. And then? It turned out to be rather challenging to start and maintain a conversation. Language, I realized then and there, is indispensable for (international) friendships.
Taking a language course (abroad) is fun and ensures that you make a huge group of new friends from all over the world. Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to keep in touch and practice your language skills together (that’s how homework becomes fun, right?).
A fresh look at your own culture
We all have an idea of what is ‘normal.’ Norms and values, traditions, and customs. You grew up in a particular country with a specific culture, and you take some things for granted and logical. Learning a new language and culture enables you to take a good look at your own culture from the outside. This new view will not only make you wonder about your own culture, but it will also make you more open-minded.
Open-Minded + Tolerant = Fantastic
A new language helps you understand people and see the world through their eyes. You discover a new way of life, experience new habits, and realize that there are several ways to do the laundry or throw a party. Some things are better. Some are merely different.
Speaking a foreign language; a gift that keeps on giving
Speaking at least two languages will get your career off to a flying start. Being a global citizen who can communicate with people worldwide is crucial in our international society today. Oh, and it will earn you a higher salary. So a second language is a gift that keeps on giving, as the English say.
Language apps to the rescue
Learning a foreign language requires time and often money. You have to be prepared to do this. Are you in doubt about whether you really want to learn a foreign language? If so, you can also start with an app. These days, there are many tools for your smartphone and tablet that allow you to learn a language inexpensively. I have listed some of them below. I have experience with all these apps.