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The Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language
It may seem strange today, but believe it not, there was a time when people believed that learning more than one language would hinder childhood development. They believed that making children learn two languages would prevent children from learning either language properly and lead to lower IQ scores. Some even believed it could lead to multiple personalities and schizophrenia! We now know this simply isn’t true, thanks to something amazing called “neuroplasticity.” This refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt, something scientists didn’t know was possible until recently. This means that children, who are at their most plastic state, are capable of learning second and even third languages quite easily and that the effects of this are profoundly positive.
One study challenged the memory of 56 five-year-olds and showed that multilinguals consistently outperformed monolinguals for accuracy and response time. That’s awesome for those of us who were raised in a bilingual household or those of us who have children or are planning on having children and plan to raise them bilingual. But, what about young adults who are monolingual, or the many Canadian youth who are forced to learn basic Parisian French and forget everything they learn the moment they step out of the classroom? Again, it comes back to that magic word, neuroplasticity. This means that teenagers and young adults are fully capable of learning a second language. The positive benefits of choosing to challenge yourself this way are numerous, not just for your test scores, but for your mental health and wellbeing. Here’s a few of them:
Studying a foreign language acts as an equalizer for students of different social classes and students from disadvantaged backgrounds see the most gains from learning another language.
Knowing more languages allows you to interact with people from different countries and cultural backgrounds and can broaden your social horizons.
Learning a foreign language opens up travel opportunities to previously inaccessible countries without the need for a translation tool.
Google Translate doesn’t work as well as you think it does.
Learning a foreign language leads to higher standardized test scores, even in areas that have nothing to do with language.
Learning a foreign language helps you better understand your own language as it draws your attention to the mechanics and grammar behind the language you grew up with.
Learning a second language opens new pathways in the brain and can make it easier to learn a third or fourth language.
Foreign language competency looks good on any resume and can lead to higher-paying jobs. Bilingual people earn on average US $3000 more per year than monolingual people.
One study of 262 people found that foreign language learning improved reading, verbal fluency and overall intelligence. Learning a foreign language also lead to better later-life cognition, even in people who didn’t learn a second language until adulthood.
Bilingualism can delay the onset of dementia during old age.
Knowing another language leads to better overall cognitive abilities.
Foreign language learning can improve decision making abilities.
Learning a different language allows you to understand other cultures and improves your ability to empathize with others.
It improves concentration, focus and will-power. People who know at least one foreign language have demonstrated stronger decision-making skills than those who don’t.
Learning a new language improves your ability to prioritize and multitask.
Bilingualism can improve creativity.
Language learning has helped people battling depression.
Knowing a new language will improve your self-confidence and build a stronger sense of identity, leading to improved overall mental health.
Studies have shown that learning a second language in high school can lead to improved performance in post-secondary.
Students who learn a new language develop a more positive attitude towards speakers of that language, their beliefs, countries and culture.
Learning someone else’s first language can open up opportunities for cross-cultural exchange. You may find new opportunities to teach others as much as they teach you, and you could even make money doing it.
You can do cool stuff like watching foreign TV shows in their original language, visiting foreign websites without needing the aforementioned Google Translate and understanding all the awesome music out there that just happens to be sung in a language that isn’t English.
Learning a new language literally gives you a bigger brain.
Finally, when you get upset, you can swear in more than one language. Just kidding (sort of)!
David is a former intern at mindyourmind. He is a mature student currently in his second year of East Asian Studies at Huron University. He speaks English, Japanese, terrible, broken Spanish and a few basic phrases in Mandarin Chinese. A lover of anime, fitness and weird music, you can often find him working out at the gym or blasting some random band through a pair of headphones (or both). He loves travelling and has lived abroad twice, in Taiwan and Colombia, and hopes to go study in Japan next year. David has Autism Spectrum Disorder with depression and OCD and he hopes to spread the word to Canada’s youth that they are not alone.
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