Less than one out of every five Americans speaks more than one language. But in Europe, more than half of the population is bilingual.
How many languages do you speak?
It’s never too late to start learning a new language. In fact, there’s a slew of benefits associated with learning a second language as an adult—in addition to the number of perks that come along with being bilingual in general.
Here are six reasons you might want to dust off that old Latin textbook:
1. You’ll get smarter. Whether you want to be a worldlier person, do better on Jeopardy! or just be more impressive at cocktail parties, learning a second language is a surefire way to enhance your intelligence and improve brain function.
“Speaking different languages means you get different frames, different metaphors, and also you’re learning the culture of the language so you get not only different words, but different types of words,” explains George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at UC Berkeley.
These kinds of new ideas may very well inspire you to begin thinking differently, and you’ll be able to express yourself and your ideas in many new ways.
2. You’ll learn words you never knew existed. “The reason why we borrow words like savoir faire from French is because it’s not part of the culture [in the United States] and therefore that word did not evolve as part of our language,” Lakoff continues.
- Jayus – This Indonesian word describes a joke that fails so spectacularly people can’t help but laugh anyway.
- Tartle – The Scots have a word for being reluctant to introduce someone because you can’t remember that person’s name.
- Saudade – Have you ever lost something and longed for it deeply? The Portuguese have a word for that.
Learning a second language will expose you to a new world of words that will help you more accurately describe the human experience.
3. You’ll be a more attractive job candidate. Whatever the job numbers indicate, those who are looking for work will assuredly tell you one thing: These days, it’s hard as hell to get one.
In order to land a new gig, you’ve got to be the best candidate possible. And in today’s increasingly globalized economy, those who speak more than one language have proven to be much more desirable than their solely English-speaking peers.
Over the next few years, it’s expected that 25,000 jobs will open up for translators and interpreters. And it is not uncommon for many companies to indicate their preference for bilingual candidates on job postings.
4. You’ll delay the onset of dementia. Studies have shown that those who speak more than one language are less likely to suffer from three forms of dementia.
The research says that bilingual folk develop parts of the brain that help them retain mental dexterity as they age. In fact, a recent study conducted by Dr. Thomas Bak, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh, revealed that those who learned how to speak more than one language deferred the onset of dementia by an average of four-and-a-half years.
“Being bilingual is a particularly efficient and effective type of mental training,” Bak explains. “In a way, I have to selectively activate one language and deactivate the other language. This switching really requires attention.”
5. You’ll get better at speaking English. When you learn another language, you’re exposed to a whole new system that’s bound by different laws, structures and etymologies.
For starters, there is one word for the in English; the Germans use der, die, das, den, dem and des, depending on whether the subject spoken or written is used in the nominative, accusative, dative or genitive case, and whether the articles are masculine, feminine, neuter or plural.
Since that’s the case, English speakers who learn German are forced to begin thinking about their native tongue in new ways—as do those who learn to speak other languages.
When you learn a second language, you’ll have to focus on grammar construction rules when you put words and sentences together. You’re forced to think differently, and that makes you understand your native tongue better.
6. You’ll become a better traveler. Though the United States was built to be a melting pot of cultures, many Americans are pushing to make English the official language of the country.
But would many of those who support that movement be able to speak French in Paris?
When in Rome, do as the Romans do—right? When you visit a country and do your best to communicate in its native tongue, you’re showing that you respect its culture. That respect will be given right back to you, and as a result, you’ll enjoy a more authentic experience during your travels.