New Year’s Resolution: learn foreign languages!

little girl writing and learning foreign languages

Who made a New Year’s resolution this year?I’ll be honest and say I don’t really believe in them myself. Plus, if all the articles on the subject are to be believed then most of us would’ve given up on them by now and January is barely halfway through! But: if there’s one resolution that I do believe is worth the effort, for yourself and for your kids, is to try learning a new language!

It may seem daunting, especially as you get older, yet there are loads of reasons why you should consider learning a foreign language at any stage of your life, and plenty of different learning methods to help. It’s always a good time to take up a new language!

It is true that English has become this century’s “lingua franca” in business, and in other fields. Everywhere you go, you are likely to maybe find someone who speaks English albeit sometimes a very hard to understand English, according to how well they master this language or their native language.

I would argue however that the English spoken today, has become a version of poor American, due to the massive influence Hollywood films have had over the past century and it has intruded into various countries.

When I lived in France I was often amazed at how some English words entered the French vocabulary (such as “le parking” – for car park used in day-to-day life,  or “le camping”) and with more appalling adoptions in the corporate world, such as “forcing” – to force something or someone into something, “burn-out”, “conf-calling”, “debriefer”, “brainstorming”, “personal branding” and so on. Not entirely sure if l’Académie française is over the moon with those.

How learning a new language improves your brain

Less risk of developing dementia

Research has shown that people who’ve learned foreign languages have less chances of developing dementia later in life.  I’ve seen the ugly face of dementia in hospitals, it deprives people of their humanity and dignity. Some people even forget the names of their loved ones, which is heartbreaking. I am personally in favour of doing anything to beat that, whether it is running or playing memory brain games, playing the piano or learning another language!

You’ll have a bigger brain!

Anytime you learn something new, new connections (or neuronal pathways) are created in your brain, which in turn contributes to enlarging your brain.  According to research, if you learned a language, your brain networks are better integrated, and they’re more flexible and allow for faster learning.  The faster those connections are the more efficiently they can work together as a network!

You’ll think more logically

I am biased here, because I loved logic in high school (oh such joy to determine if a sentence is true or false, if the conclusion inferred is therefore valid or not!) and logic is closely linked to semantics (the meaning of words and how sentences are structured). However, geeky arguments aside, developing the more logical side of reasoning allows people to make more rational decision, based on facts and evidence – which in today’s divided world is a plus!

Why is it important for kids (and not just) to learn a new language

Exploring and understanding new cultures

When learning a new language, you’ll be exposed to differently ways of thinking and doing things. Each culture has their own rituals and collective way of thinking. It is said that British people are very insular and their humour is unequalled (I agree, I love British comedy it is what attracted me to this country and civilisation). French people’s humour is somewhat different – a lot of the times directed at others, as self deprecation doesn’t really exist in this culture. It is a much more expressive humour, based on irony and gesture.

During University, I was an Erasmus student from Eastern Europe, studying in France and later on in life I moved to the UK. While very nostalgic for our habits at home – mostly related to certain types of food consumption at Christmas and Easter, or missing my friends and going out with the, – I always felt very lucky to be able to discover other types of food in France, other ways of being and behaving in England and I always felt personally enriched by those. My horizons expanded a lot and I am hoping today to be a more balanced person due to this as in being able to see more than just one side of a story.

Relating to each other

I mentioned above that learning languages let us discover new cultures. This in turn contributes to developing more understanding and empathy towards other people, other behaviours that might not be like ours or other cultural norms. Which leads to more tolerance and more acceptance of differences.

Research has also found that people who speak more than one language develop a higher tolerance to ambiguity and unexpected situations. How does this work? Well, during a conversation between let’s say a native speaker and a non native speaker, if a word is not known by the latter, they will carry on the conversation by inferring the meaning from the context (they won’t stop the conversation saying “oh I do not know this word, I’m completely lost”). What this means then is that people who have this high tolerance to ambiguity and unexpected situations have higher resilience levels against anxiety and stress. And we all know how precious mental health is.

Improved job prospects

If you work in an office, in a firm with several locations abroad, you might have been in a situation where you had to attend a teleconference with your Spanish, German and Japanese colleagues. And all of a sudden the Spanish stop and giggle about something between themselves in their own language. Well, if you know one of those languages you’ll have an advantage over some of your colleagues, in that you’ll understand what the giggles are all about! If you worked with Japanese people you’re also likely to have committed one or more cultural no-no’s in their world (for example, in Asian cultures, the word “no” doesn’t seem to really exist – especially when asked by a superior to do something).

It goes without saying that being able to put a foreign language under “Languages” in your CV will improve your employment prospects. Not just because may work for a  company that operates in a different countries but it also demonstrates higher intellectual abilities to a prospective employer.

Once in a job you may also have better chances for mobility (i.e. being sent abroad as an expat – which usually comes with great perks!).

So don’t rethink that New Year Resolution to learn Japanese just yet!. Plus you can make it really fun and involve your child and learn together. We have  an amazing vendor called Lil’ollo in our directory, they sell a range of printables, maps and cards to help your children learn languages in a fun way – and adults can benefit from this too and learn with their kids.

I would love to hear from people who started on a new language this year. As for myself, I have given myself to learn Spanish as I may embark in a new professional adventure outside Rainy Days Fun.

A bientot, Hasta luego, Ciao, La revedere, さようなら !

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