There are many who often ask why learn a foreign language at all? What are the benefits of being multilingual? What purpose would it serve to speak another language?
As someone who is a “voluntary” multilingual – meaning, I made the conscious decision, and consequently, the focused effort to learn other languages, I can tell you — based upon my experience, that the joys that come with being able to speak another language are just so endless.
Sure, there are the usual practical day to say benefits when you learn a foreign language:
- Better navigate your journey when abroad on vacation
- Boast multilingual status on your CV for more professional opportunities
- Impress others and/or seduce the opposite sex
(I still don’t quite get the last one…) (like really?)
But the benefits of being multilingual that I have truly come to appreciate are the non-tangible sorts that change your life and enrich your spirit in ways that endure for a lifetime.
1. Your World
With the more languages you know, the bigger and more colourful your world becomes. You get exposed to the cultures and subcultures that share in that language, and get to experience the vast diversity contained within these cultures; their food, their music, their clothing, their history, their traditions, their entertainment …
You get to be removed from a provincial mentality limited by linguistic cultural borders and expand your horizons to include all that your target/acquired language is associated with.
2. Your Connections
In being able to communicate and interact in another language, you’ll find that you rub elbows with people that you probably never would have been able to in your own native tongue. What’s more, you can reconnect with people you might have previously known in their own mother tongue and discover a whole new way of relating to one another that you didn’t have before.
Your personal and professional network diversifies and maps stop looking like a blur of complicated names that you can’t pronounce because you’ve made contacts who actually come from these places – and maybe you’ve even been over to visit too!
3. Your Identity
One can’t know what sweet is without also knowing what bitter tastes like. And in the same logic, in getting to know about other places and cultures during your language learning process, your own sense of who you are and where you come from is strengthened in a positive way.
Whether it be comparisons between phrase structure logic, shared language families, historical linguistic influences or even colloquial expressions, now you have something else to inspire you to take a look at your own language and culture from another angle that enables you to put things in broader perspective and understand yourself better.
4. Your Heart
When you find yourself at the mercy of capable speakers of your target language in the early stages when you are linguistically handicapped, it is a rather humbling experience. Being out of your comfort zone gives you the opportunity to grow. You listen more than you can speak, and get to observe the variances of human nature as you take in the way different people react to learning process while being in this non-dominant position.
This will enable you to cultivate empathy and patience, since you would have gotten a taste of being “different” or “dependent” on the goodness of others. And you will amaze yourself at how much more compassion you will have towards foreigners or others who seem to be living a similar experience in another facet of life. Now, you’ll be able to understand
5. Your Paradigm
Your entire view of the world evolves. “Others” and “them” start to dwindle from your mindset. You have laughed at that joke in Thai, written in your diary about that Congolese proverb, overeaten that yummy meal from Kazakhstan. You have a friend from that part of the world that they are villainizing on tv, and you wonder if she is okay.
Now you are better able to recognise, appreciate and feel the collective human experience. You realise that superficial cultural differences are to be enjoyed, but that deep down, we truly all just as more alike than we are unalike as the late great Dr Maya Angelou would always say.
Learn a Foreign Language and Change Your Life
And it’s never too late either! You have nothing to lose and all to gain.
With the more languages you speak, your entire life experiences have the potential to become so much richer, more profound, and that much more beautiful. And that comes with the internal growth that takes place during the language learning journey.
In a world that continues to teach us to distance ourselves from one another, learning another language is a stepping stone to coming together. And bit by bit we truly do start to speak each other’s languages; in the figurative human sense.