Speaking Double: Why you can and should learn another language

11/28/2016 10:24 am ET
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Acquiring a second language may just be the greatest adventure of your life. From voyaging worldwide with lingual finesse to making lifelong cross-cultural connections, speaking another language affords incredible opportunities.

While most people believe that their age or schedule prevents them from embarking upon language learning, the time and energy invested in this empowering endeavor are worth every second. When people think of language studies, many envision tedious grammar exercises, huge stacks of vocabulary flashcards, and long hours of rote memorization. But these mundane tasks aren’t required for language mastery- with the help of websites, applications, cultural exchange, or immersion, the process can be thrilling. Read these top five reasons to learn another language, and find a path that suits your interests, time-commitment, and passion.

1. Have Fun and Explore

With interactive websites and innovative applications like Yabla, Speaky, and Duolingo, attaining fluency in French or conversing in Catalan doesn’t have to be boring. Yabla offers music videos, news reports, cartoons, and interviews in five languages, and captions them in English so that you can follow along. Speaky is an interface that matches you with people who speak the language you’re learning, and each person has the chance to practice their conversation skills as well as receive help with grammar and vocabulary. One of the most popular language learning applications, Duolingo expands your vocabulary and refines your pronunciation with fun games and ways to track your progress.

2. Train Your Brain

There is more evidence than ever that bilingualism has significant benefits for cognition and neuroplasticity. Shown to improve mental agility, concentration, memory, and creativity, studies also suggest that knowing another language wards off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. The connections that your brain forges in response to the new information increases the density of grey matter in the frontal lobe, the region responsible for problem-solving and executive decisions, strengthening your mind and increasing neuroplasticity.

3. Interact with New People

Nothing compares to making friends thanks to having a language in common! The experience of conversing with a native speaker is truly special, because you have the remarkable opportunity to hear how people from another culture express themselves and to learn about their way of life. Don’t be shy about making grammar mistakes or speaking with an accent, either- most people will appreciate your effort to learn about their language and culture.

4.  Maximize Your Travel Experience

The ability to navigate the metros in Japan or find your way through the streets of Sevilla are skills aided greatly by knowing the local language. While fluency isn’t required for successful travel, it certainly enriches the experience. Activities like wandering through museum exhibits, asking for directions or ordering dinner become a breeze, and boost your confidence as you reap the benefits of your hard work!

5. Deepen Your Knowledge of World Cultures

It’s common knowledge that language and culture are inextricably linked, and learning another language provides valuable insight into other ways of life. Ever wonder where the phrase “to win one’s bread” originates? This expression, which translates as gagner son pain, comes from French, and reflects the dietary staple of the country. Sprachgefuhl, a German word which translates as “feeling for language”, signifies one’s talent for language acquisition and befits this country located at the heart of a plurilinguistic continent. Make your own cultural discoveries and enrich your global understanding by embarking on your own language learning journey.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

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