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5 Unexpected Perks of Speaking Another Language

United States Languages
by Benny Lewis Nov 20, 2015


Seriously, why?

Maybe you want to sharpen your mind, or expand upon your job prospects. Perhaps you’re yet to meet that special someone and want to give yourself an edge in the competitive world of dating!

Alternatively, you could be culturally motivated. You’ve planned a trip to a country that has been of some interest to you for many years and wish to be able to converse with the locals. Or, you just want to learn enough phrases to get by when travelling.

There are a few benefits to learning a language that you may not be aware of. Bilingualism has been shown to improve your overall mental health. You exercise to get your body to shape — language learning is exercise for the mind!

Or if you’re a bit of a wallflower in English, there is a strong chance that you could be the life of the party in French.

It’s blatantly obvious that learning more than one language comes with a lot of perks. Here are some that you may not have previously considered.

1. You’ll discover elements of your personality you never knew existed

Those who speak multiple languages often comment on how they change as a person depending on the tongue they’re speaking in.

Say you’re fluent in both German and English. You may feel fairly easy-going when speaking and thinking in English. You smile at strangers and talk without restriction about topics like money. On the flip side, in German, you might find that you are more direct and honest, only smiling or laughing at something when you find it genuinely funny.

Research has confirmed that most people feel a personality shift when they switch from one language to another, with different traits being emphasised depending on which language is being spoken at the time. A study in 1998 of bilingual Parisian adults with Portuguese parents found that personas sometimes changed entirely, depending on whether the subject was speaking French or Portuguese at the time.

How is this a benefit? For one thing, you’ll be introduced to a part of your personality that you weren’t aware previously existed. For example, you may not think you’re all that funny in English, but you could be a regular comedian in Italian!

As you begin to learn more about the language and culture you have immersed yourself in, you’ll be building on your own tolerance and understanding of different people and their ways of thinking. In short, you’ll become a better, more rounded person as a consequence.

2. You’ll have an edge when travelling the world

I often get asked how I make enough money to travel the world. My argument has always been that travel is not as expensive as people believe it to be.

Although I now earn through sales of digital tools, as an author and a professional speaker, for years before that I had to find far more creative ways to fund my travels. I worked in a youth hostel in Rome, taught English as a Second Language in several countries and worked for some time as a location-independent freelance translator.

I quickly learned that the best way to score incredible deals while living abroad was to haggle in the local language, no matter what level of fluency I was at during that time.

I also choose to predominantly live in countries where I end up paying far less for amazing apartments than I would for the equivalent in Ireland, North America or any other English-speaking country. I disregard any websites and advertisements that post accommodation in English. By doing this, I avoid paying an “English Tax” and save myself a ton of money.

Having the ability to converse with the locals of whatever country you’re in gives you many advantages over other English speakers. The Internet is obviously a great tool for research, but it just doesn’t beat word of mouth. From finding delicious places to eat, local cultural activities, the best area in which to shop, those native to a city or country are going to have their finger on the pulse. If you have the ability to converse with them and immerse yourself in their culture, you’ll end up with an all the more enriched travel experience as a result.

3. You’ll discover a sense of connection with local cultures and histories

Although my native tongue is English, the first official language of my country is Irish. Irish, Gaeilge or “Irish Gaelic” is the third most spoken language in Ireland — particularly in the region known as the Gaeltacht, across the west coast of the country.

Irish is a required subject of study in all public schools within the Republic of Ireland. I spent 11 years “learning” Irish during my education. I am sorry to say it was my worst subject — the way it was taught was too academic. Despite my teachers’ best attempts, I just couldn’t will myself to study.

When I first started getting into language hacking, I realised that Gaeilge might not be as hard to learn as I had previously believed. I signed up for a three-week course for adults at Oideas Gael in Donegal. I was one of the worst in my class to begin with — something I felt quite ashamed of as an Irish national, with several international students attending. However, this motivated me to give the course everything I could. I have returned to Gaeilge time and time again over the years, continuing to work towards full fluency in this language.

Studying Gaeilge as an adult gave me an appreciation for my country that I just couldn’t gain from learning the language while at school. It’s a piece of my heritage that I get to take with me, no matter where I live or travel to. I’ve learned Irish dances, songs and poems since truly immersing myself in the Gaeltacht.

Many people wish to learn languages as an adult for personal reasons. This may be because the language is a languishing part of their country’s history. Alternatively, if your parents are immigrants, it might stem for a need to achieve a level of closer communication with them, or with your grandparents. Learning a language for this reason gives you a closer bond to your country and heritage in a way that can’t be matched by any other.

4. You’ll develop a better memory

When you feel a little flabby and consider muscling up, what do you do? Sprawl across your couch, watching TV and cram potato chips into your mouth? Of course not. You go out running, lift weights at the gym, swim 40 laps daily, or try your hand at fencing. You do whatever it takes to get your body into shape. The more you exercise, the fitter you become.

Like your body, your brain works better with “exercise”. Learning a language is an effective way of flexing that mental muscle as you memorise vocabulary and grammar.

Unsurprisingly, language learning has been linked to memory improvement. In a study where monolingual and bilingual children performed memory tasks regarding where objects were placed within their visual field, the bilingual children outperformed monolinguals. This was particularly evident in exercises that required the focus needed to ignore distractions.

Honing your memory skills is more important now, than it has been in times past. With most answers being a mere Google search away, we just aren’t using our brains as much as we used to. On top of that, the advent of smart phones has led us to be encouraged to multi-task. Although this is seen as a positive skill, multi-tasking is in fact detrimental to our overall mental health. It means we are constantly distracted, not following through in the tasks we set out to do and as result, we’re getting dumber.

Having a good memory can enhance your life in so many ways. Socially, you’ll remember people’s faces, names and important dates. No more having to rely on Facebook to remind you that you’ve nearly forgotten your best friend’s birthday for the second year running!

You’ll become better organised, such as being able to recall your daily schedule. Forget having to constantly refer to your Google calendar — you’ll never be late to an appointment again!

The beauty of this particular perk is that the more you work at improving your memory, the easier it will be. In keeping with the fitness analogy, the first 10 minutes you jog, weight that you lift or lap that you swim is going to be the hardest part of the process. As you continue to exercise, your body will adapt to your new regime and you’ll soon begin to see results, which will encourage you further.

The same can be said in language learning. It can be difficult to initially stay focused on the one task, as you are effectively rewiring your brain. However, the more you do it, the easier it will become. Your 20th conversation will be much less intimidating than your second, as you’ve already trained your mind to adapt to these new habits.

5. You’ll keep your brain healthy

It seems rather obvious to state that speaking a second language can increase your mental capabilities. Learning another language isn’t impossible, but it does require commitment and focus. You need to train yourself to stay on task, so it makes sense that language studies would affect your cognitive skills in some capacity — from memory, to problem solving.

However, according to research, learning a second language doesn’t only make you smarter — it can help delay the onset of mental diseases such as Alzheimers.

A study conducted by Canadian psychologist Ellen Bialystok suggested that bilingual speakers managed to keep Alzheimer’s disease at bay for an average of four years longer than monoglots. The study revealed that those who switched between languages everyday had the best chance overall, but also indicated that continuing to practise a language at an elementary level didn’t hurt your chances. Bialystok came to the conclusion that bilingualism helped to increase mental focus.

As you can see, there are many benefits to learning multiple languages. Yes, it can enhance your job prospects and make you seem more attractive. You’ll also be actively working towards sharpening your mind and bettering yourself as a human being.

And, you never know. You might learn something about yourself that was previously unknown, along the way.

So, get learning. It’s never too late to start! The best time to begin is now.

This article originally appeared on Fluentin3Months and is republished here with permission.

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