A new language brings you a whole host of new opportunities. It allows you to step into a parallel universe, where you get the chance to live your life again but in a different language, interacting with people from different countries in ways you never could before.
But as with all things, the challenge of learning a new language brings difficulties with it too. The ability to speak a foreign language is a skill that can be developed only through patience, with dedication, and over time.
Learning a new language keeps your brain active. It requires you to constantly be learning new things and applying your new knowledge. Each time you learn something new, neural pathways are formed in your brain that help keep it active and young. Spending a few minutes each day learning a new language is a bit like doing Sudoku, but infinitely more useful and applicable.
Speaking a new language forces you to change the way in which you express yourself. You will learn new sayings, new expressions, and see how languages express ideas in entirely different ways. Gradually, you will develop a sense of how the people who speak your new language think. This will introduce you to a world that your native tongue alone could never have shown you.
Studies suggest people who speak more languages can earn more money. In a globalised world, the ability to communicate with customers and colleagues in their own language is as invaluable to you as it is to your employer. There are also whole industries based exclusively around language skills, such as translation and interpretation, but also social media moderation, advertising, diplomacy, and many others.
Science has proven that speaking a foreign language actually makes you smarter. It will speed up your brain, and allow it to process more complex information at the same time. Importantly, these benefits are available to anyone learning a foreign language at any time of their life, not just those brought up bilingual or multilingual.
Learning a new language is so good for your brain that scientists have now proven that doing so will delay the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease by about 4.5 years. This makes learning a language one of the most effective ways known to prevent the condition. The NHS lists learning a new language as one of the best ways to deal with depression and other mental health conditions. Studying, plus the routine and regularity that it requires, is a great way to cope with these kinds of stresses in your life.
Learning a language brings you into contact with a huge range of different people and cultures that you might otherwise never have had the chance to get to know. Being able to speak to people in their own language gives you a unique opportunity to come to understand them, their views, beliefs and traditions. That in turn will make you more aware than ever before of both the differences and the similarities that exist between cultures. It is impossible to truly ‘know’ a culture different to your own without also knowing its language.
Generally, people love speaking their own language. If you give them that chance, they will feel far freer and more open to speaking to you and getting to know you, than if you oblige them to speak your language. Nowadays, when it is almost expected that people will communicate in English, this is more true than ever, so that when someone has made the effort to learn another language, it really is well received. You will get better service on holidays, and even make friendships that could last a lifetime.
Even though you speak your own language natively, you probably haven’t spent much time thinking about it. Learning a new language will make you more aware of grammar, where words come from, expressions and how to write effectively, not just in the one you’re learning, but in your native language too. You will find yourself much better placed to analyse grammar and use your native language more precisely and accurately.
Learning a new language is a lifelong undertaking. However much you know, there will always be more left to learn. As you start taking on a new language and getting to know a new culture and new people, you are likely to get hooked in the process. There is no pastime more mentally stimulating and satisfying than this.