Every year, I make wildly spectacular New Year’s Resolutions, and every year, I don’t follow them. Nevertheless, there’s something really motivational about making plans even if you know you’ll probably never keep them.
At the start of 2016, I decided that by the end of the year, I was going to have started learning French. The very idea of this was pretty whimsical to me – I’d always wanted to learn French, but I’d never had the chance. So naturally, as I do every year, I made this crazy plan to learn French: knowing full well I’d probably never do it.
And yet, I sit here, at the end of 2016, having just completed my first year of my French major at university. For the first time, I carried out my New Year’s Resolution to the end (well, it’s continuing – but the year is over!), and I’m so glad I did.
After learning a second language I truly feel that I have a better understanding of the world. I feel that I have far more confidence than I’ve ever had. I have a new appreciation for different cultures and for my own that I never had before.
Let me show you how it could transform your life too, and why you should definitely make it one of your New Year’s resolutions (that you’ll actually keep!):
When you’re going for a job interview, there’s no doubt that it increases your employability and makes you stand out from the crowd. In almost every job, there’s a unique way for your knowledge of a second language to be utilised. It could be the knowledge of the language itself, or the increased cultural awareness that comes through having learnt a second language.
Plus, let’s face it: today’s world is a globalised world, and knowing a second language is becoming increasingly more important. There will always be a need for it: technology can’t replace the cultural awareness of second language learners.
Let’s face it, trips go so much more smoothly when you can communicate with locals. Simple things like asking for directions, or even just ordering lunch are made much easier by knowing a second language. Being able to properly communicate with those around you not only makes the trip far more stress-free, but also just generally enhances your overall experience.
Imagine how awesome it would be to be able to communicate with locals in their own language? Not to mention – in most destinations, people will warm to you straight away if you’re at least making an attempt.
Through learning French, I’ve found that you really do pick up on part of the culture through the language.
All the supplementary materials such as TV shows or books that you’ll use to learn will definitely give you better insight, sure. But aside from the obvious, the language itself shows you certain things: it teaches you about their sense of humour, what is important to them, and the way that people interact with each other in that culture. Frankly, you’ll have a hard time learning the language properly without understanding the culture itself.
Not only is that super interesting, from a linguistic point of view, but it also shows us that there’s more to language learning than empty phrases and sentence structures.
And by learning about other cultures, you really start to become far more aware of your own. I feel like I understand Australian culture and mannerisms far more than when I started learning other languages, and I appreciate it more too. This has been one of the most rewarding things for me about learning a second language.
We’re constantly being inundated with (very valid) reminders on how important it is to exercise regularly. But what about our brains?
In a study published in the Annals of Neurology, it is suggested that those who speak more than one language have increased cognitive abilities compared to those who speak only one language. It also suggests increased general intelligence.
So next time you’re out for your run, don’t forget: your brain needs exercise too!
This is awesome. Seriously.
Because it not only helps you with your language learning but literally every other aspect of your life.
Time for some big words. Located in the medial temporal lobe of your brain is something called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for transferring information into memories. The cool part: studies have actually shown that the hippocampus in bilinguals and polyglots is actually larger than in those who can’t speak a second language.
When you speak two languages, you are essentially using two separate processes. As a bilingual, you’ll probably need to switch back and forth between these two languages a fair bit. Often when trying to recall words from your memory, you similarly recall the words in multiple languages and select the most appropriate. Doing this stimulates the part of your brain that is responsible for multi-tasking, improving your overall multi-tasking ability. As someone who loves to watch the newest episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix while doing important assignments (I don’t recommend this), this is great news!
Being bilingual means that you’re more likely to pick up on subtle tonal prompts in conversation. You’re familiar with learning a language, and part of that means you have to listen very hard and very carefully for certain sounds so that you have some idea what’s going on. Over time, this improves your listening skills – which transfers over to your own language as well!
Strangely enough, it also means that you’re probably going to be better at identifying other languages as well – even ones you don’t speak. Weird, right? But I can actually confirm this as I’ve noticed this change in myself too!
Anyone who speaks another language has probably watched a TV program or film with English subtitles and realised just how much is lost in translation. I find myself thinking, when I watch my favourite French TV shows, how much less information or dialogue is given to you in the subtitles, and how much worse it would be if I didn’t understand what they were actually saying.
The same goes with reading books. As I’m still learning, I always try to stick with books that I know in English reasonably well: most of the time, for me, that’s the Harry Potter series. And – with respect –so much is lost in the translated versions!
Learning another language enables you to enjoy and appreciate cultural works and art for yourself, as they were intended to be enjoyed.
What could be more amazing than reading Trotsky’s works in Russian? Or maybe you’re a Les Miserables fan – imagine one day being able to read it in French!
Okay – this is pretty cool. Did you know that learning a second language can actually help to delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? I’m no medical professional, so if you want to read about this topic in depth, check out the articles here, here and here.
But, long story short, basically the bits of your brain that you use when you’re learning or speaking a second language get a really big workout. By doing this, you’re strengthening the neural connections in your brain and this ultimately can delay the onset of these diseases. So: learn a second language to take care of yourself!
To be honest, learning a second language is just really fun. So even if you hate the idea of making your travel experiences more memorable, have a particular aversion to delaying the onset of dementia, or don’t want to increase your employability, then do it for this reason: it’s totally fun. The other things are hugely beneficial, and as far as a hobby can go, language learning is one of the most rewarding, but all of that aside, it’s a highly enjoyable challenge.
If you’re envisioning sitting at a desk each day, pouring over textbooks, then you’re only partially right. Textbooks are a handy tool, and some study will probably be required. But the fun stuff is generally the most valuable: learning by talking to locals, by watching TV shows in the language, by reading books, participating in cultural activities, eating traditional foods. There’s a myriad of ways that you can turn language learning into something you look forward to. It doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) a chore!
Having made it to this point, I’m sure you’ve decided you’ll most definitely be adding a second language to your New Year’s resolutions, right? I thought so.
It’s cool, me too.
This year I’ll be learning two new languages simultaneously. In 2016, I realised that I can achieve my New Year’s resolutions if I put my mind to it. It’s so hard, but if you don’t give up, you’ll see the results of your labour in no time!
For those interested, Mango Languages is kicking off 2017 with a 31-day language challenge. I’ll be participating for sure. So, join in on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and be sure to let me know how you’re going! I’m super keen to see how all of you progress and to engage with you all.
I wish you all the happiest New Year. Stay safe, have fun, and best of luck!