It’s something we’ve always suspected, but now we have the research to back it up: Learning a new language makes you a better person. But don’t just take our word for it — we’ve taken a deep-dive into research from all around the world to find out why. We consulted academic institutions, read research reports and got insight from professional linguists.
Now we know exactly how learning a new language can help you gain and develop important life skills. You can’t argue with science, so here’s the evidence to prove it!
Language Learning Makes You More Empathetic
There’s no better way to get to know another culture than by learning its language. As English speakers, we sometimes take our native language for granted. English has become quite an international language, so we’re generally used to being able to communicate in our mother tongue while visiting other countries.
But there’s a clear downside to this. Julien Leyre is a French-Australian linguist and can speak nine languages fluently. At the age of 30, he began studying Chinese. As a polyglot, he thought he would be able to communicate easily in China. But once he got there, Julien found it extremely hard to understand what anyone was saying.
This was a very humbling experience for him. “It was fantastic because it taught me humility and the limits of one’s own capacity. This can help you empathize with people who come from somewhere else and might struggle articulating things. You also have this very deep, ingrained sense of what it feels like to be operating in a world that is unfamiliar.”
And don’t just take Julien’s word for it: Numerous studies going back to the 1970s have demonstrated that speaking (or at least being exposed to) a second language makes it easier for you to take on someone else’s perspective.
Bilingualism Helps Keep Your Brain Healthy
Research has suggested that learning a second language at any age helps maintain the brain’s functionality. A paper published in the University of Edinburgh journal, Frontiers in Psychology, finds that bilingual young adults were better at ignoring irrelevant stimuli and concentrating on relevant information compared to those who spoke only one language. Just imagine how you might find it easier to ignore your buzzing phone the next time it tries to distract you.
In fact, many of the drugs used to slow the effects of Alzheimer’s disease are designed to improve this exact same attention mechanism. A study from the University of Toronto found that bilingual people were able to function better for a longer time after developing the disease.
Your Decision-Making Skills Will Improve
Thinking in a foreign language makes you more spontaneous, quicker at making decisions and more likely to take favorable risks. A study from the University of Chicago reveals that when someone deals with a problem in a foreign language, they’re more likely to make rational, less emotional decisions.
Psychologist Boaz Keysar from the University of Chicago says: “We know from previous research that because people are naturally loss averse, they often forgo attractive opportunities. Our new findings demonstrate that such aversion to losses is much reduced when people make decisions in their non-native language.”
So learning a second language means we’ll be able to decide what to cook for dinner in under 10 minutes? Sounds like a dream.
You’ll Become A Better Listener
A National Academy of Sciences study shows that bilingual people are better at distinguishing between different sounds and pronunciations, even in languages they don’t speak! This skill can come in handy, especially when trying to tell certain accents apart. You’ll no longer fall into the trap of mistaking a Kiwi for an Australian or a Canadian for an American.
Learning Another Language Will Strengthen Your Native Language
A study by a program called the Impact of Second Language Education shows that learning how to speak a new language significantly improves your awareness of your native language. That means you’ll have a better understanding of vocabulary and grammar, as well as improved reading and speaking skills.
It’s a similar concept to learning a new sport. If you’ve played badminton your whole life, taking a few months out to play squash will likely make you a better badminton player. The brain is like a muscle and activating a new part of it improves the entire system. Genius!
You’ll Make More Friends
Learning a second language makes it easier to network and build new relationships. Opening up to a new culture through its language can make you more flexible and appreciative of other people’s actions and opinions. If you speak more than one language, you’re more likely to be open to different perspectives because of your increased empathy.
When two people first meet, it takes them only seven seconds to decide if they like the other person and just one-tenth of a second to decide if they trust them or not. That’s not very long! These small indications of openness and flexibility are actually more important than you might think. And who doesn’t have room for more friends?
Get started learning your new language today and be a better person for it tomorrow!