Benefits of Learning a Second Language

by Julie Ellis

I studied French and Spanish in high school. While I did not continue my French study in college, I did take two more years of Spanish and graduated with good fluency. While my motivation at the time was a boyfriend from Mexico attending the same college, and even though that relationship ended, I have never regretted being fluent in a second language. At the time, I was unaware of many of the benefits that are now known, based upon cognitive research.

6 Important Benefits

  1. Career Advantages: People who have fluency in at least two languages (their native and a second one) are in greater demand in the job market, and will often “beat” the competition because of that second language. Any company that has or plans to have an international presence will almost always select the candidate with 2nd language proficiency.
  2. Better Travel Experiences: When individuals speak the native language of countries they visit, they are able to establish immediate rapport with the “locals” and are thus more intimately immersed in the culture, learning things that a typical “foreigner” would not. On several occasions in my travels throughout Central and South America, I was invited into homes for meals and great discussions about politics, economics, and such. My perspectives have certainly been broadened.
  3. Improved understanding of grammatical structure in one’s native language: This I discovered first-hand as well. Just learning verb tenses in another language allowed me to identify them in English and made me a better English teacher.
  4. Brain Health: Medical studies now indicate that the part of the brain that controls language function is improved through the learning of a foreign language. More recent studies also indicate that learning a foreign language late in life appears to delay dementia and Alzheimer’s. An important study by Dr. Thomas Bak at the University of Edinburgh and replicated at the Perleman Medical School at the U. of Pennsylvania show that the attention mechanisms of the brain area “stretched” and kept active when older adults work on learning a foreign language.
  5. Cognitive Benefits: Studies also show that children who grow up in households in which two languages are spoken and become fluent in both of those languages have greater ability to focus in school. They also appear to have better short- and long-term memory functions. Some studies suggest that students do better on standardized testing, and are better able to remember lists and sequences.
  6. Personal Satisfaction: There is always of feeling of accomplishment when one masters something, and that goes for learning a language. Not only do I feel “accomplished,” but I enjoy going to a Mexican restaurant and having the ability to converse with the owners and wait staff in their native language. When I see a Hispanic family at the store, conversing in Spanish, I love greeting the young children and engaging them is simple conversation. Parents are pleasantly surprised and, I believe, feel a bit more respected.

We all know that children pick up a foreign language much more easily than adults, and that is why, of course, such instruction is begun at the elementary levels in most public schools today. But learning languages as adults and senior citizens now appears to have terrific benefits – maybe I’ll resurrect my study of French!

About the author

Julie Ellis - regular blogger for Having a Master’s degree in Journalism and love for traveling, Julie is financed by her freelance writing to investigate and explore exotic places of the world.


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