English isn't the most spoken language in the world, but it's the most widely spoken and fast becoming the universal language. Whilst Mandarin is the most spoken there are more Chinese learning to speak English than English learning to speak Mandarin.
No surprise as English is the language of the internet. It’s the language of business. It's the lingua franca. I had a first-hand account of this while traveling. A German and Brazilian friend of mine communicated in English.
English is set to continue its proliferation.
It’s predicted that by the end of the century, the majority of the 6000 languages that exist now will no longer exist. Only 100 will remain. If English is on the verge of taking over, you may think it’s pointless learning a second language.
I mean, why would you if most of the languages are set to disappear and English is fast becoming the universal language?
Well, there’s much research pointing to the benefits of learning a foreign language. Here are 11 powerful reasons why learning a second language will make you a better person.
1. Boosts Your Confidence
Aside from being fun, learning a new language presents an opportunity to push yourself. It makes you realize you’re capable of achieving more than you thought.
Starting may be difficult, but as you set and reach goals, your confidence improves. Learning a second language also allows you to meet new people from different cultures.
I have many friends from Germany and France who I met whilst backpacking around the world for a year. Many of them had the goal of improving their English. I saw daily how their language skills improved - and with it - their confidence.
Tied to confidence is open-mindedness.
2. Opens Your Mind
Learning a new language is also a gateway into understanding a new culture. You open yourself up to new experience and worldviews.
But remember, whilst language can shape thought and expose you to a different worldview, it doesn't mean all people of the target language share the same worldview.
Sure, there might be common threads. But I guarantee you Hitler had a very different worldview compared to many Germans. The same can be said about Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Regardless, as you learn and interact with people, you will improve your relationships.
3. Improves Relationships
Through interacting in a foreign language you learn to understand people better. As you understand people better you develop closer bonds. The bonds will deepen as you move from basic language skills to the more advanced conversations.
4. Improves Empathy
Empathy refers to the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. So, as you improve your communication in the target language, you learn to understand people better, and, in turn, you become more empathetic.
But there are also physical health benefits.
5. Delays onset of Dementia and Alzheimer's
Learning a second language doesn’t prevent dementia or Alzheimer's. But research suggests people with either affliction tend to develop them 4.5 years later compared to their monolingual counterparts.
Learning a second language also has a positive impact on your brain.
6. Improves Memory
Higher language skills cause growth in the Hippocampus. The Hippocampus is an area of the Cerebral Cortex, linked to memory, thought, and action. Studies of bilingual and monolingual children suggest bilinguals have better working memories. This shouldn’t discourage you as you can still reap these benefits later on in life.
Aside from the impact on memory, there's also research highlighting the impact on cognitive skills.
7. You Become Smarter
Bilinguals are better at solving problems, staying focused, and planning. They can also multitask better, switching from one activity to the other, with ease. The ability to switch also contributes toward a heightened awareness of their environment.
8. Bilinguals Are More Observant
Bilinguals are better at paying attention to their surroundings. This makes sense as they often check the environment to assess what language is being spoken. They then shift to the appropriate language. They're also able to filter out unnecessary information and spot misleading information with ease.
This brings me to my next point.
9. Boosts Your Decision Making Skills
Psychologists from the University of Chicago found that people who spoke in a second language made wiser financial decisions.
But why? The ability reduced the tendency toward loss aversion. Loss Aversion is when people are too concerned what’s happening now to make informed decisions about the future.
If you’re still not convinced of the benefits, perhaps the following point will grab your attention?
10. Improves Your First Language
This may be a surprise, but there's research that demonstrates how learning a second language improves the grammar, reading, and vocabulary skills of your native language. Why? Because you become more aware of the mechanics of the language. You'll also see a marked improvement in your communication - and if you’re a freelance writer - your editing and writing skills.
Some may argue that the following benefit won’t make you a better person. But, I’d argue that the potential confidence boost that results, can.
11. It’ll Make You Sexier
In a 2013 study, 79% of adults found bilinguals more attractive than monolinguals. You’re probably thinking this will vary depending on the language you speak. And you’d be correct. You’d also be correct if you thought French was number one. Italian, Spanish, and English come in at second, third, and fourth respectively.
Tying This Together
Despite English being the lingua franca and set to become the most widely spoken language, learning a new language can make you a better person. Not only are there mental benefits like improved cognitive ability, but also physical ones like the reduced onset of Dementia and Alzheimer's. And more importantly, you'll be able to interact with someone from another culture, create closer bonds, and develop greater empathy; all things the world is currently in desperate need of.
So, are you ready to start learning a new language?