By: Prapanna Lahiri
In today’s globalised world which encourages mobility of people across continents, learning a new language not only equips us to communicate to more people but also develops our spectrum of knowledge in more ways than one, by opening the window to various cultures, traditions, customs and ideologies across the world. It helps us to see the world in a different perspective with an open mind educating our behaviour towards others. Nothing can express this wonderful benefit of knowing a different language better than the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Austrian-born philosopher who spent much of his life in England. He said “If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.”
Historically, trade and commerce had been a major cause of language contact which led to bilingualism over centuries in various parts of the world. According to an estimate more than half of the world’s population is bilingual. That means something like 3.5 billion people use more than one language to communicate every day. Many countries are home to numerous languages. This necessitated learning each other’s language for contact between communities resulting, sometimes, in speaking a common language of communication which led to bilingualism in these countries. India, Indonesia, Canada, South Africa and even the United States are good examples of this phenomenon. It is common knowledge that children are good at picking up a second language they hear being spoken around them. However, acquiring communication capabilities in a second language enables individuals of all ages to expand various mental abilities that keep the brain healthy for years to come. Emphasising the advantage of speaking a second language, President Barack Obama, in a speech, addressing parents during campaigning for his first term of presidency said, “You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.”
Learning a second language is as exciting as it is beneficial for the person learning it. There is a plethora of advantages that one derives by learning a different language other than the native language or the mother tongue. Some of these important advantages can be enumerated as below:
- Boosts Brain Power and Brain health: To learn a non-native language is understanding a whole new system of distinct rules, structures, lexicon and etymology that constitute the complexities of a language. In negotiating these complexities the brain endeavours to unearth meanings and then express ideas employing critical skills such as cognitive thinking, comprehending and problem solving. This constant effort sharpens the brain power which is a significant benefit of learning a new language. Medical studies have also revealed certain positive effects of learning a second language on the brain like delayed onset of some brain related ailments like Alzheimer and dementia as compared to speakers of only the native tongue.
- Sharpens the mind: Skilled linguists have better perceptive skill at spotting incongruities, deception and misleading information. No wonder the fictional detective characters like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot had multilingual skills.
- Improved memory: More the brain is exercised for storing and recalling information related to a new language, such as its rules, structures and lexicon, better memorising skills are inculcated in people giving them the advantage of easier retrieval of names, facts, figures and directions.
- Enhanced multi-tasking abilities: Multilingual people, who are routinely adept at slipping from one language mechanics to another with ease, are also more capable of juggling activities, with less stress involved in doing so. Hence, they are better equipped at multitasking.
- Improved listening skills: In reality, polyglots have been observed to possess better listening skills than their unilingual peers. Whatever language one speaks, listening skills are of prime importance; not only for the reason that listening to another language being spoken is a core skill in learning it, but for the fact that it is a fundamental skill in life.
- Experience and appreciate another culture: Learning another language opens the window to other cultures across the world enabling one to connect with new people, understand different viewpoints and see things from a new perspective. A broadened horizon so opened, helps a multilingual person acquire good networking skills.
- 7. First language improves: Learners of a new language focus attention on grammatical rules and constructions of that language. In doing so learners often, as a comparative exercise, revert to grammatical structures of their own languages which might have not received that scrutiny earlier. This helps better understanding of the mother tongue.
- 8. Better job prospects: In today’s business dominated society, ability to communicate in several languages across cultural barriers lends that competitive edge for a job seeker. Even when organisations plan for overseas expansion, they would logically prefer multilingual staff because multilingual ability often comes with flexibility, openness of mind and decision making skills.
- Encourages creativity: Observers have noted that learning to communicate in a new language often leads to innovations in expression. When a new learner of a language is at a loss to find the right word they often come up with creative ways to express their thoughts using out-of-the box methods. The process of learning a second language makes learners more creative than their unilingual counterparts.
- Travel and leisure: Multilingual ability gives a global traveller an upfront advantage in being able to speak freely to locals and other co-travellers. Travel experience will be richer and more memorable with deeper understanding regarding the different cultures of the world. This is especially true if one acquires proficiency in one or more of the commonly spoken languages of the world, such as Spanish, French or German.
Of all the various advantages an individual with multilingual capability enjoys, the most important benefit that inherently is felt within by the person is a sense of achievement one can be proud of. All the hard work put in, to learn a different language pays off when the new found confidence gives an insight into a feeling of oneness with various shades of the global society.