Motivations for language learning number aplenty, but most beginners reach for the obvious, low-hanging fruit. For example, learning a new language broadens your perspective and makes you a more interesting, cultured person. Plenty of people endeavor to learn a new tongue for this reason alone, even if they’re unaware of the other benefits of learning a second language.
Knowing other languages is also an obvious boon for your travels. If you’re someone who likes to see the world, then you’re probably more likely to strive for multilingualism. Other people are simply motivated by challenges, and what’s more stimulating than a brisk vocabulary drill?
While these are reason enough to learn a new language, we’ve barely scratched the surface of all you stand to gain when you embark on a new course of study. Here are a few of the more unexpected benefits of learning a second language.
1. You can fight dementia. Studies have suggested that learning a language can combat dementia and Alzheimer’s, or delay onset by about four years. Bilingual people have more gray matter in their brain, which helps compensate for mental decline.
2. You can boost your ability to recover successfully from a stroke. In one study, bilingual patients were more likely to have their cognitive functions intact after suffering from a stroke than monolingual patients.
3. You can strengthen your multitasking muscle. That’s because the bilingual brain has to efficiently juggle two languages and prioritize the information that’s needed in the moment. One study showed that bilingual speakers outperformed monolingual speakers in their ability to work on several tasks at once.
4. Language learning boosts your cognitive functions in other ways, too (like by boosting your inhibitory control, which helps you control your thoughts and behavior). Inhibitory control allows a bilingual person to switch between languages and resist the urge to immediately “jump” to their native language, which also leads to more gray matter in the brain.
5. You can earn more money. The Economist estimates that people with language skills can earn anywhere from an extra $67,000 to $128,000 over their lifetime. According to language expert and Bric Language Systems CEO Ryan McMunn, learning another language can boost your salary by 10 to 15 percent.
6. You might get better at saving money, as well. Recent research revealed that the language you speak can predict your ability to plan for the future and make smart decisions. Hint: English speakers don’t exactly have the odds stacked in their favor in this regard.
7. You can save money on your travels by avoiding tourist traps (and, naturally, having better connections with the locals).
8. You can discover a whole new dimension of your being. Many people claim to feel like a “different person” when they speak another language. Indeed, two linguists once asked over 1,000 bilingual people whether they could attest to this phenomenon, and nearly two-thirds confessed to having multiple personalities.
9. You can stave off your chocolate cravings (or maybe just feel like you’re eating cake). Learning new vocab stimulates the same reward center of your brain, or the ventral striatum. This is the same “pleasure center” that gets activated when you have sex, gamble or eat delicious food.
10. You can also get more out of your workout. New research shows that exercising and studying a language at the same time can improve your memory and boost your recall.
11. You can fight back against your dwindling attention span. A 2016 study found that even one week of learning a new language was enough to boost mental alertness.
12. Language learning actually makes your brain bigger. A 2014 study found that learning a language later in life — or after one’s native language has been firmly established — increases cortical thickness.
13. Language learning is actually one of the best ways to practice listening — and being a better communicator overall. Just ask national radio host Celeste Headlee.
14. Life-long learning is proven to boost self-esteem, increase enjoyment and enhance one’s satisfaction in other areas of life — not to mention cope with everyday problems.
15. Learning new languages generally makes you happier. Achieving goals is key to self-satisfaction and a sense of subjective well-being, and there’s something extremely zen-like about being in the “flow” of creating something new.
16. You’ll be able to understand foreign humor (like these foreign-language memes). With an expanded sense of humor, who knows how much funnier you’ll be?
17. You can increase your odds of getting a hot date. In a survey Babbel conducted with dating site EliteSingles, 75 percent of respondents said they think it’s attractive when someone speaks more than one language. Indeed, according to 93 percent of respondents, multilingual or bilingual skills were actually more appealing than great abs.
18. You’ll probably be a better person for it. Learning other languages increases your intercultural competency, as well your sense of empathy for others. One study found that 75 percent of kids who were bilingual (or were exposed to a second language) demonstrated greater understanding of another person’s perspective.