The Linguist / To Self

5 benefits from learning another language

Key Takeaway: Learning another language has so many benefits, from making you smarter to showing respect for foreign language and culture. Here are five such benefits.


Copyright 2007 Allister Roy S. Chua

Copyright 2007 Allister Roy S. Chua

I am a Filipino of purely Chinese descent whose family and community practice traditional Chinese and Chinese-Filipino culture. As such, growing up, I learned three languages, one in two dialects (for a total of four): English (you could say I also learned two dialects here – American and British English, owing to the various children’s books and all I was exposed to), Tagalog, and two Chinese dialects: Mandarin and Lan Nang (our take on Hokkien).

My best friend’s own glossophilia was aroused by our classmate’s knowledge in French, and in turn, my best friend woke up my own glossophilia – ironically, I learned French before he did. Thanks to language exposure in high school, I was able to learn some Japanese (the first foreign language I fell in love with) and Spanish, then turned to French in university as a “deal” with my upperclassman cousin.

As such, it¬†wasn’t as difficult for me whenever I went abroad to non-English-speaking countries, where the shopkeepers et al you speak with are not guaranteed to know English – such as in China, in Japan (though stutter and panic through the dictionary I did), and in France. But that’s not the only benefit from learning at least one other language. Here are five of them:

1. You’ll have an easier time traveling.

Photo copyright 2011 Allister Roy S. Chua

Photo copyright 2011 Allister Roy S. Chua

As I said, learning another language will help you in your travels (obviously, if that language is spoken there). This could range from a simple request for directions, to ensuring you get your order – and your bill – right, to even an emergency response that could save your life.

The photo above is one I took of the menu of a¬†cr√™pe stand in Paris. Notice that it is only in French. Now, supposing the cr√™pe stand owner speaks very little to no English (I wasn’t able to check), and you speak no French. You wouldn’t be able to decipher very much (well, Nutella is a universal term), and you might even end up ordering either what you do not want, or order beyond what you expected in the more extreme situations. Suddenly, the need to know French becomes much more apparent.

It’s even more necessary at airports or train stations (though most airports should offer English signs and English-speaking staff) especially when you run the risk of missing your connection and thus need to shell out a lot of money for a replacement ticket.

2. You become smarter.

Crop of the screenshot of my LPI results as of 2 February 2015 from Lumosity.com.

Crop of the screenshot of my LPI results as of 2 February 2015 from Lumosity.com.

And I am not just talking about increased knowledge of existence due to the additional vocabulary and grammar you acquire from learning that Japanese dialect, vastly different from English.

Before, it was generally believed that learning another language was a¬†hindrance to a child’s academic and intellectual development, as it was a cognitive interference. However, says¬†The New York Times, this interference is actually¬†good for the brain, as it makes it work harder to resolve the resulting “internal conflict”. This was demonstrated in a 2004 study where bilingual children were better at solving mental puzzles than monolingual children – the evidence suggests that a multilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive functions, which directs how and how much we pay attention especially in mind-heavy matters like problem-solving.

Another benefit, according to two British professors, is that children develop theory of mind earlier and enable them to develop different perspectives in seeing the world. Furthermore, it can delay dementia in older people – again a result of a healthy and active brain.

3. You become more flexible.

Harcourt/Amazon

Harcourt/Amazon

Similar to #1, learning different languages makes you more flexible. A whole world of opportunities, figuratively and literally, opens up before you, just because you can read or speak Spanish.

For one, you get to interact more with people who speak that other language and thus broaden your networks. You get to read books and newspapers or even watch TV and movies in another language. You basically do not limit yourself to a monolingual world, and get to explore and explore beyond the comfort zone of your mother tongue.

And, should the situation call for it, you at least are more empowered to work and live in another country.

4. You show that you respect the other language and, by extension, culture.

Photo copyright 2012 Allister Roy S. Chua

Photo copyright 2012 Allister Roy S. Chua

From a CSR point of view, learning another language means you show respect for said language and the accompanying culture. This is actually a plus when you’re speaking to foreigners, because they’ll get delighted that you speak their language and, inevitably, know at least a little bit of their culture.

Language often shows its people’s culture by way of specific terms that may not be found in other language at least directly – for example, the French¬†terroir, which denotes the geographical and meteorological conditions that are just right for a specific foodstuff to grow into the right standards (such as grapes in Champagne or the milk from cows turned into authentic Camembert); or the Filipino¬†utang na loob¬†(literally “debt of inside”), which refers to a debt of gratitude coming from one’s inner self, or¬†loob.

In speaking that language, you show that you understand their cultural practices and beliefs Рunderstand, not necessarily agree with if you do not Рand it opens up the other person to you, paving the way for a harmonious bridge of communication and ideas. Which, in my opinion, is true globalization.

5. You get bragging rights.

…Okay, that was a joke. But, really, you do get to “show it off” in a way when the situation calls for it – such as on your r√©sum√© or CV, or when you’re introduced to a foreigner¬†whose native language is the additional one you’ve acquired.

With the world becoming smaller and smaller today, and the dominance of certain countries over others, there’s bound to be some languages that are so-called “more beneficial” than others. Of course, knowing and being proud of your own native tongue is living out your CSR – as you show respect for your¬†own¬†culture – but if you wish to know just several to help you in, say, the work you do, I would advise on Mandarin Chinese, English, and¬†Spanish or French – respectively, the four most spoken languages today. In fact, I’m going to make sure my own future children know those languages in addition to Lan Nang and Tagalog.

The best way to learn a language, for me, is still to take up language classes at your school or at institutions, such as the Confucius Institute for Chinese or Alliance Française for French. But if you want a less costly method, and you feel you have the discipline for it, buy language textbooks (I recommend Living Language for languages that use Roman script, or Peking University-issued textbooks for Chinese) or subscribe to free language podcasts on the Internet. Easy Languages in particular (my best friend introduced it to me), on YouTube, is nice for useful, relevant conversation language.

What languages do you speak, and are currently learning? Comment below!


Featured Photo copyright 2011 Allister Roy S. Chua.

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