Languages are ever-changing. A lingua franca can be dethroned on seemingly little notice. What once was the main language of the globe, gets pushed to second place. Take English. Currently holding the prestigious lingua franca title, English is spoken by approximately 1.75 billion people, or ¼ of the world’s population. It is taught in nearly every school in the world, is the working language of the European Union, and has replaced Russian as a foreign language in Mongolian schools. While it seems English will forever be there, some scholars now say that it’s not going to last forever. Like a zombie apocalypse, it is only a matter of time before another language takes its place and we all need to gird our loins for the transition. What better time to learn a foreign phrase or two or 1,000? Not only will you be prepared when the inevitable shift happens, you will be happier and better off right now! Let me show you.
But first, some history…
Look back a few hundred years. In the 17th century, France declared that civilized Europeans would speak French, essentially overthrowing Latin’s 15 century-long reign. In the 1800s, Russia and Britain disallowed their domains to speak Farsi, the predominant language of Muslim culture for 800 years.
So, you see, it does happen! The time is right to learn something other than English. But which language? Should we all learn Chinese because of China’s rise in the global stage? Maybe it doesn’t really matter. You see, the benefits of learning a foreign language are vast and almost immediate. No need to wait for a global power to unseat the powers that be. Learn another language and watch your life unfold as it has never done before. Here are the prizes that await you:
You look better. Yep. In a recent survey, three-quarters (75 percent) of people say they find it attractive when someone speaks more than one language. Why is this? The reasons vary. Some find other cultures interesting. Others were intrigued by the mystery of a foreign language and still others view people with the ability to converse in another language as highly intelligent. And it didn’t matter much which language it was. In America, French was ranked the most attractive by 53%, followed by Italian (32%) and then Spanish (30%).
You are smarter. In order to learn a language, you need to be mentally flexible, able to reason and think creatively. It involves a bit of problem solving and conceptual thinking. Children who are bilingual score higher on reading, language arts and math tests.
Your mind opens. Learning a language well involves learning its culture. And by knowing and understanding a culture different from your own, you cannot help but see the world from another angle. This helps you foster respect for other ethnic groups, customs, lifestyles and world views.
You understand yourself better. In order to understand a new language, you need to understand all the nuances. This includes subject-verb order, how to conjugate verbs and whether something is feminine or masculine. You are bound to compare this to your native language and —in doing so— your new language helps you understand your native tongue better.
You are more flexible. If you can handle entire new words, new idioms, new ways of thinking that comes from language acquisition, you can do anything. You can handle new situations and adapt better to whatever you encounter.
Your ego gets a boost. Now you can travel to Germany and order your beer without awkwardly stumbling over words and hand gestures. You can tell a French Taxi driver which museum you want to visit in clear French. You can find the hot springs in Bulgaria without using a single English word.
You are friendlier. You can converse with more people and make more friends! You can joke with that French cab driver and fellow Bulgarian hot spring hopper. You can even success more in business. There is nothing bad about that!
You sound cooler, more musical. This goes back to the first point. You are more attractive. The cadence, lilt and rhythm of your other language is like music to other people’s ears. Unless, perhaps you are yelling….
You become more valuable and richer. You are not like everyone else when you know another language. You stand out. From government to marketing firms, nearly every type of business needs people who know more than their native language. Plus, they will pay you a little more than your monolingual colleagues.
Your mind stays sharper longer. While not an immediate benefit per se, you will benefit greatly over the course of your life. Studies have shown that elderly bilingual speakers are more resistant to dementia and symptoms Alzheimer’s disease. The more proficient in a language they are, the later the onset of those diseases.
You stay ahead of the bell curve. You will be ready when a new lingua franca comes to town. And even if it isn’t the language you have focused so hard and long to learn, you will be more prepared than any monolingual at grasp the seeds of change and learning the new language at the helm because you, my friend, have done this all before!
By Ilona Knudson