5 Surprising Benefits of Learning a New Language
Some people were born to roam.
They’re forever chasing new sights, new sounds and new experiences, running perpetually on a heady mixture of adrenaline and jet fumes. To live, for these people, is to venture onwards and plumb the depths of the great unknown.
Some of us prefer Netflix.
And that’s okay. It’s not just globetrotters that can benefit from learning a new language. So says Matthew Youlden, a 32-year-old Brit who knows more foreign languages than most us of know foreign words.
“Often, the best way to learn a language is to go to the country it’s spoken in,” he explains. “But really, you needn’t go anywhere at all. You can learn from wherever you are right now, and you don’t have to go all that far to start enjoying the perks either.”
So, in advance of Matthew’s upcoming class right here on CreativeLive, we thought we’d catch up with him and ask: “What’s in it for the rest of us?”
We’re also giving away 1 year subscriptions to Babbel’s advanced language learning platform to 10 lucky winners for the next two weeks. Enter to win and share to increase your chances today, and don’t forget to RSVP for the free, live broadcast of Learn a Language with Babbel.
Here are Matthew’s top five unexpected benefits of learning a new language.
1. Stay Mentally Fit.
Getting older will always give you grey hairs, but it needn’t do a number on the grey matter: keeping mentally active is the key to staying sharp later in life.
“Learning a new language is one of the best ways to look after your brain,” says Matthew. “The mental workout involved helps keep those neurons firing well into later life.”
He’s not wrong: studies have shown that learning a second language can delay the onset of cognitive decline due to dementia by up to five years. And it’s never too late to start: language-learning app Babbel (where Matthew works) found that older users actually do better in certain situations.
Why? They’ve learned how to learn.
2. Be Happy.
A lot of people get a real kick out of learning a new language.
When things go well, the process is its own reward. Some people, like Matthew, enjoy it so much that they do it again and again and again. That may seem unusual, but it will come as no surprise to the researchers who recently discovered that language learning lights up the same area of the brain as gambling, chocolate and, yes, sex.
“Instinctively, I know that learning a language can be hugely enjoyable – addictive even.” says Matthew. “But people sometimes find that hard to believe. What I normally see, however, is that once they get started and experience that first taste of success, they completely understand.”
3. Learn More Languages.
I know. How can learning languages be a benefit of learning languages? Hear me out: Once you’ve learned a second language, you’ll find it easier to learn a third language. Those two languages together make it easier to learn a fourth language, and so on. Repeat the process enough times and you’re Matthew. As the man himself explains:
“It really does get easier the more you do it. Every time you learn a language, or even start to learn a language, you’re learning about language itself. Language learners think about languages, their own included, in a different way to non-language learners. That knowledge helps you compare and contrast to understand the differences and similarities between any two languages.
“It’s an amazingly powerful tool – my secret weapon, even.”
4. Boost Your Career.
A second language won’t just get you a job somewhere it’s spoken. That extra bullet point on your résumé is a mark of distinction. It’s a sure sign that you’re both willing and able to do things that other candidates would likely never attempt.
What’s more, The Economist recently calculated the value of a second language over the career of the average university graduate. Turns out, a little extra lingo is worth an extra $67,000 dollars over the length of a career.
“It’s pretty unusual to make a career out of learning languages,” admits Matthew. “But plainly you don’t need to do my job to reap the benefits of a new language.
“It’s not just about money or employability: talking to people in their own language opens the door to opportunities you’d never have otherwise: travel opportunities, new clients and new responsibilities are all common professional perks of speaking a second language.”
5. Make New Friends.
When we say that visiting a foreign country is a great way to learn a language, we’re really getting at something else. It’s the people you meet there that really matter. Even if everyone in your neighborhood speaks perfect English, you probably don’t need to look hard to find someone with a different mother tongue. In Matthew’s experience, these people offer far more than conversation practice:
“Look around you. If you live in a big town or city, you probably know people from all over the world. At the very least, you’ll know people with family members from elsewhere. More than just a resource to learn from and practice with, these are people who can share with you a different way of looking at things. And more often than not, they’d be happy to do so.”
After all, “if you talk to a man in a language he understands,” said Nelson Mandela, “that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
Learn more from Matthew and pick up his strategies for learning languages fast, in Learning Languages with Matthew Youlden.
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