The ability to speak two foreign languages fluently is the best skill I’ve ever acquired, and I thank my lucky stars for it on a daily basis.
It’s unlocked countless doors for me. If I hadn’t got into languages when I was younger then my life would, without question, be totally unrecognisable today.
For me, it was the brilliant Spanish teacher I had when I was 14 that first got me excited about languages.
The summer I spent as an au pair in Barcelona at 18 sealed the deal, and meant I signed up to study Spanish and Portuguese at university.
Whether you’re a teenager deciding whether to carry on studying languages or you’re at a later stage of life, learning a language could be transformational.
Here are just a few of the things that the ability to speak a foreign language could do for you.
Things learning a language could do for you
1. Expand your pool of potential friends
Being able to speak a different language will mean there are suddenly lots more people in this world that you could be making friends with.
Us English speakers like to think that everyone speaks our language. But unless someone has a really high level of English then it can be difficult to really connect and build a friendship.
Your new best friend might be a native speaker of French or Arabic, or any of the other c. 7000 languages spoken on our planet.
I have some people in my life that I’d never have even come across, let alone get to know, if it weren’t for my Spanish and Portuguese skills. My life would be far poorer if they weren’t a part of it.
Language classes and exchanges are also fantastic places to meet people from all walks of life.
Speaking the language of a destination you’re travelling to makes the experience far richer.
But learning a foreign language could also give you opportunities to travel. For example, if you’re studying a language at university in the UK, then a year abroad in a country where your language is spoken is compulsory.
Your language skills could mean you’re able to volunteer abroad or work abroad, seeing some incredible places and making some unforgettable memories.
3. Boost your career
Fluency in a foreign language could mean you’re able to apply for job opportunities abroad, but it could also give your career opportunities a boost right where you are.
In the modern world, language skills are often a requirement for certain jobs, and could be the thing that sets you apart from your fellow applicants.
There are also lots of jobs out there that involve using your languages on a daily basis, from teaching to sales to freelance translation.
4. Give you a great mental workout
It’s been proven that learning a language can actually make your brain bigger, and more brainpower never did anyone any harm.
It’s also been shown to help stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, so you could be doing your future self a massive favour by going to those Japanese classes.
5. Give you a better understanding of your own language
In the UK, grammar isn’t taught well. In fact, when I was at school it was barely taught at all.
Studying a foreign language will mean you’ll have to get your head around what a subject is, what a preposition is, what the past perfect simple is…
That might seem boring to some people, but gaining a better understanding of why we speak and write the way we do can actually be very rewarding, and help you improve your writing skills in your own language.
6. Unlock another side to your personality
When I was travelling in Mexico with my mum having spent a year living and working there, she noticed ‘Spanish Katie’ making an appearance whenever we needed to haggle over price or handle a tricky situation.
I, personally, find it far easier to speak my mind and stand up for myself in Spanish, when I’m not shackled by the desperate need to be ‘polite’ I feel when speaking English.
When I don’t feel like I have to constantly say things like ‘if you don’t mind’ and ‘if it’s not too much trouble’, I can be more assertive.
You might find that you have a completely different personality in Indonesian or Latvian than you do when you’re speaking English, discovering a whole other side to yourself.
7. Unlock new cultures
One of the things you quickly come to realise when you’re immersing yourself in a new language is that it’s not just about the vocabulary and the grammar.
Every aspect of a language is totally intertwined with the culture surrounding it and the history behind it.
Learning a language can give you an insight into a fascinating new culture and way of looking at the world.
And deepening your understanding of a new culture can help you to really get a handle on how the puzzle of the language you’re learning fits together.
8. Give you a better understanding of the world
Learning another language is a chance for us to break out of our bubbles and see things from another culture’s point of view.
It can inspire you to travel, meet new people and broaden your horizons in both a literal and metaphorical sense.
Learn more about how the world works, about how your own language works and about how your brain works.
It’ll take commitment, hard work and passion, but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded a million times over, and you never know where it might take you.
Can you think of any benefits of language learning I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear them.