Why learning a language should be your New Year’s resolution

Babbel lists a few reasons to learn a new language for the New Year.

It’s that time of year again. Time to look back at the past year with pride and satisfaction, but maybe a smidgin of regret too. Have you achieved what you wanted? Did you get that raise, find that special someone, write that novel? Or are you sitting on a couch covered in stale Oreo crumbs watching reruns of Cheers and wondering where it all went wrong?

Well, it’s time to let all that go. The new year brings its own momentum, a sense of promise and the possibility of change. For all the awful clichés surrounding New Year’s resolutions, if you make the right ones they can be very motivating.

Ano Novo, Língua Nova

I’m going to assume that you’re considering learning a language as a New Year’s resolution. After all, you know that speaking another language is A Good Thing, maybe Something You’ve Been Thinking About, perhaps even Something You’ve Been Putting Off For A While Now. But the little devil inside you whispers, why bother? There’s a million things vying for your time and attention and so many items already on your to-do list, not to mention a growing backlog of cat pictures to look at. Why should learning a language be at the top?

Here’s why, little devil, here’s why.


New Year’s resolution
For a moment, let’s set aside the thrill of chatting up handsome Parisiens or ordering caipirinhas in perfect Portuguese. Language skills can give you a crucial edge in the job market. Recent analysis suggests that a second language adds at least a 2% bump to a starting salary, and is quite lucrative over a person’s lifespan. Languages have different values, with German for example at a tidy 3.8% premium. So channel your inner Gordon Gecko, and next time you see someone learning French verbs, let fly with a furious tirade about how their ruthless capitalism knows no bounds

2. Fitter. Happier. More productive.

New Year’s resolution
Why should you spend some of the time you allocate to football matches or celebrity gossip magazines or cat pictures on learning another language? Because it’s good for you. There, I said it. Language learning improves brain functionality in a whole host of areas: your ability to solve problems, make decisions, multi-task and ‘code-switch’, as well as your perception, attention span and memory. When you’re older, it delays dementia and increases your cognitive reserve. If you’re worried that you’ve missed the boat, don’t be: a recent study at Edinburgh University found various cognitive benefits regardless of whether the second language was acquired earlier or later in life.
Basically, it turns you into Superman.

3. A gym membership for your mind

New Year’s resolution
Have you ever bought a gym membership and not used it? It tends to languish in the bottom drawer for a few months, at which point you wonder guiltily if you can get out of it. So why not do something easier, cheaper and just as beneficial? You don’t need expensive shoes and a $50-per-month gym membership to exercise your mind. You can do it anytime, anywhere, and make steady progress with just ten minutes of learning per day. In fact, it’s better to learn regularly in small chunks – you’ll retain more of the language. It’s like your brain wants you to be a bit lazier, so who are you to disagree? Plus you won’t need to shower afterwards.

4. Expand your personal horizons (Trainspotting version)

New Year’s resolution
Choose a language. Choose a culture. Choose museums, movies, mayhem. Choose philosophy and romance. Choose drinking in smoky bars and kissing strangers in the rain. Choose waterfalls, deserts, sunsets. Choose to understand what the hell that bus driver’s saying. Choose unknown lands, new perceptions, foods you’ve never tasted. Choose to look in the mirror one day and see a story in every wrinkle. Choose the memories you want.
Choose your future. Choose a language.

5. It’s a helluva lot easier than quitting smoking or drinking (yes, really!)

New Year’s resolution
My old French teacher always made the same New Year’s resolution and succeeded magnificently: to smoke and drink more. But most of us poor sods wake up on New Year’s day with a crippling hangover and the determination to cut down on our vices. How many times have you said to yourself that this year you’ll stop smoking / drinking / looking at cat pictures? It’s not easy. This kind of resolution is based around self-denial, something human beings generally aren’t that good at. Your resolve is likely to peter out if your heart isn’t in it. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t make these resolutions, but don’t focus only on the things you want to cut out of your life.

Treat yourself to a positive New Year’s resolution this year – start learning that language you’ve always wanted to. Make sure your goals are small and achievable: reading Dostoyevsky in Russian may be a step too far, but reading the newspaper is doable. Set aside ten minutes a day and you’ll be astonished at how quickly you pick it up.

Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution to learn a language? How did it go? Leave a comment!