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4 Reasons to Learn A New Language

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Aug 17, 2015

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A year ago, I enrolled for beginners’ French lessons at the Alliance Française de Bombay. Like many people born and raised in India, I was already multilingual, imbibing several languages with ease in my early childhood. But learning a new language as an adult proved to be far more difficult – excusez-moi, difficile – than my days poring over Hindi and Marathi textbooks or speaking Gujarati with my family.

Adults don’t often take on the task of learning a new language voluntarily. We have families, jobs, responsibilities. The time and effort required to learn a new language don’t seem worth it. But there are actually numerous benefits to learning a new language as an adult.

It keeps your brain young, active and growing.

The cognitive benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism (whether from childhood or through adult acquisition) are well documented: Speaking two or more languages staves off dementia, improves attention span and memory, helps build multi-tasking skills, and more.

But did you know that learning a new language also makes your brain grow?

Researchers from Sweden’s Lund University studied brain scans of recruits at the Swedish Armed Forces Interpretation Academy who were learning Arabic, Russian or Dari. The study showed that certain parts of the brain increased in volume after just three months. I can’t tell whether my brain’s getting bigger after a year of French, but it’s nice to know it’s getting some serious exercise.

It introduces you to new cultures.

Learning a new language allows you to interact with people with whom you were unable to communicate before, whether it’s your spouse’s family from another part of the country or the waiter at a café on your foreign vacation. You can finally watch foreign or regional movies without being a slave to the subtitles.

As your level of proficiency in the language increases, so do the possibilities. Despite only studying for a short time, I’m already able to read basic French, opening up a channel to French news, commentary and literature—and a new way of seeing the world.

It can help your career.

You’re a more valuable asset to any company if you speak the same language as the people with whom it does business. Corporations clamour for talent that can help them communicate with foreign counterparts and translate documents. If your new language skills benefit your employers, it puts you in a better position to negotiate a higher salary. Or, it can help you change careers altogether. (Professional translator is a real job!)

It’s a bit of a thrill to put a language hobby to good use. When I began learning French I was employed with a law firm that dealt with clients and cases around the world. My basic knowledge of the language (and a little help from my friend, Google, for the technical vocabulary) enabled me to explain a grievance from a French company to a local client when everyone else was stumped.

It improves your first language.

Nobody thinks about sentence construction when speaking or writing in their first language. We learn the rules of grammar early in school and seldom have to deal with them again. But when you’re learning a new language, it’s a refresher for all those pesky points of grammar that help you become a more proficient communicator in your mother tongue. Learning French has definitely caused me to pay more attention to the intricacies of English. When I write, now, I appreciate the language I previously took for granted. Understanding how to use your first language correctly means fewer crossed-signals, less confusion, and greater freedom of expression.

If this has convinced you to pick up a new language, you have lots of options; there is no “correct” way of learning a new language. Organisations like the Alliance Française or the Goethe-Institut offer programs with a structured teaching environment. You can also check whether the language teachers at your kid’s school or college give private classes to adults. Finally, if your time is limited and you just want to pick up some key phrases, try apps like Duolingo or Babbel. No matter which method you choose, have fun and enjoy the process.

Bonne chance!

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Written By Shivani Shah

Shivani Shah spent several years practicing law until she gave it up to pursue a life of creativity. She is a writer and editor living in Mumbai who tweets at @wordsbyshivani and has an unhealthy obsession with green tea.

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