S S Sodhi
Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein rightly said “the limits of your language are the limits of your world,” and he was right. Language connects and builds bridges like no other thing in the world.
As our world is increasingly becoming more interconnected and interdependent through technological advances, especially during lockdown, it opens up many benefits for people to learn foreign languages for many reasons. Besides, building a proficiency in other languages is a vital skill that gives one an opportunity to compete and succeed in the global economy while engaging with the world in a more meaningful and closer way-whether near or miles apart.
In order to master a new language, conversations with native and fluent speakers are essential. If you’re shy but want to meet new people, using the excuse that you want to practice your speaking skills is a great opener and a doorway to making new friends, expanding your horizons and broadening your life experiences.
Apart from making you better fit for survival in this crazy, modern world, foreign language opens many doors for you. You may draw new friends to share your new language with.
Or if not, then once you go foreign land and are actually able to speak their language ,you’ll be surprised to know how people open up to you, when you speak their mother tongue.
It also helps you deepen your connection to other cultures. It fosters an appreciation for the traditions, religions, arts, and history of the people associated with that language. Greater understanding, in turn, promotes greater tolerance, empathy, and acceptance of others-with studies showing that children who have studied another language are more open and express more positive attitudes toward the culture associated with that language.
Moreover, If your bio data includes ‘fluency in a foreign language’, your chances of employment in today’s economy become much greater for you than for those who speak only one language. Potential employers consider this a valuable asset in an employee’s skill set, as they’re able to connect with a broader range of people. In this new age of start-ups, companies are increasingly breaking into new markets. You up your personal and professional value if you’re able to negotiate with manufacturers in another country or communicate with customers who don’t speak your native language.
This also gives you a competitive edge over other candidates who haven’t yet become bilingual.
Even if you don’t seek any employment advantage with foreign language, it is still great skill for travelling. Knowing more than one language opens up your vacation destination possibilities! Travelling through a foreign country becomes much easier if you can speak the language of that country. Fluency isn’t required.
Locals anywhere appreciate that you’ve taken the time to at least attempt to learn and communicate in their tongue. It shows a greater level of respect and is an easy way to meet new people. Knowing the language makes you a local, no matter where you are, opening up your world literally and figuratively. You will be shaped by communities. You will be humbled by the kindness of strangers. You will build lifelong friendships. And for these reasons alone, you will see the reward of learning languages for many years to come.
But if you are neither seeking employability edge or travelling advantage with foreign language, you can still reap the benefits of positive cognitive effects of learning a foreign language on your brain, as the process involves analysing and processing different linguistic structures and at the same time exploring everyday cultures of the countries where the foreign language is spoken. It builds increased awareness of syntax, grammar and sentence structure used in the foreign language.
The skill once learnt can be applied to learning any other language in future as well. The same process can be replicated with learning multiple languages.
Studies have shown that acquiring a second language improves memory and increases attention span among children.The process of becoming bilingual exercises their brain, challenges them to concentrate more and boosts their problem solving skills. It also improves their skills in divergent thinking, which is the ability to identify multiple solutions to a single problem. Further, learning a second language also opens additional doors to opportunities for studying or working abroad.
Bilingual students tend to score higher on standardized tests than monolingual students, especially in the areas of vocabulary, reading and mathematics.
Bilingual individuals have also been shown to be more logical and rational, have better decision-making skills and be more perceptive and aware of their surroundings.
Recent researches have shown that bilingualism can stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia by years. Regardless of their education level, gender or occupation, bilingual subjects in the linked study experienced the onset of Alzheimer’s, on average, 4 1/2 years later than monolingual subjects did.
Study results out of the American Academy of Neurology are showing that speaking more than one language increases the amount of neural pathways in the brain, allowing information to be processed through a greater variety of channels. They’ve also begun to demonstrate that multilingualism improves development in the brain’s areas of executive function and attention, no matter what age the language learner is.
Lastly, learning a foreign language increases your self-confidence as it is a known fact that confidence increases when a new skill is learnt and mastered.
So, do get started. There are many virtual, direct and indirect methods of learning foreign languages. But only the investment of time and interest will make you a good language learner.
(The author is an educational consultant and a social activist.)
S S Sodhi