10 Reasons Why Everyone Should Learn a Foreign Language
And how to do it easily even if you don’t think you’re good at languages….
Why am I writing this article?
Yes, I run a Spanish language school, so you might think that I’m writing this article just to convince you to take Spanish classes with us. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Whatever language you decide to learn it’s the same to me – these same reasons apply just as well to French or Italian as they do to Spanish.
The reason I’m writing this is because of the pleasure and richness that speaking a second language has brought to my life, and how many of the amazing things that have happened to me in my life would not have happened if I hadn’t spoken Spanish.
Not only that – but also because I’m sure that if YOU learn a second language, many of those same things will happen to you. And not only that – but speaking a second language will help you well into the future as well (including even helping you to avoid going senile!)
Reason 1: Travel to parts of the world that wouldn’t otherwise be possible (and stay safe!)
When you travel, do you normally stick to the tourist trail, or do you venture out into parts of the country that most tourists don’t go?
If you speak the local language, then visiting these unexplored places becomes so much easier. You can ask for directions, you can organise buses and accommodation, and you can get recommendations from locals.
Even more importantly, if anything goes wrong, then you can ask someone for help!
One of the scariest moments of my life was when I was travelling on a bus in a remote region of Colombia and the local Guerrilla soldiers (the FARC) stopped our bus and told us that we would not be able to leave.
Unfortunately, I was the only foreigner on the bus, and nobody else spoke English. Thankfully, I’d just spent two months in Guatemala improving my Spanish, and I was able to understand the basics of what was happening. We’d have to stay there for a few days, unable to leave the area, and then we could be on our way.
‘What are we going to eat?’ I asked my fellow passengers.
The Guerrilla had also stopped a cattle truck, and pretty soon the answer to that question became clear! I was vegetarian at the time, and I watched in horror as they shot a cow and told everyone to help themselves!
The local people helped me to get through that terrifying experience by talking to me, sharing their food with me, and sharing a laugh with me. Without my basic Spanish skills, that experience would have been almost unbearable.
Reason 2: Meet amazing people who you would not otherwise have met (including potential life partners)
Are you looking to make new and interesting friends, or even looking for “the one”, the love of your life?
Meeting amazing people is another great reason to learn another language. By only sticking to English, you’re severely limiting the number of people you can meet in your life.
And even when foreign people DO speak English, many people actually really like it when you can speak in their language too. Even here in Australia, I’ve made many Spanish speaking friends (who can speak great English) because of the fact that I can also speak Spanish.
In fact, some of the most important people in my life are from Latin America. My wife, Iliana, is from Mexico, and my two business partners, Juan and Marcela, are from Colombia (even though we met here).
By sharing a language you also share a part of a culture, and by sharing someone’s language and culture you can understand them and relate to them on a way deeper level than just by communicating with them in English.
I love being able to converse with many of my friends in either Spanish or English, and share songs, books, films, or even jokes in either language. It makes life so much richer than it would otherwise be, and makes our bond so much deeper.
Reason 4: Be totally free, open minded, and independent.
The more you travel, the more you see, and the more you realise that not everyone does things in the same way we do things back home!
On many occasions you’ll probably think that the way other cultures do things is in some way inferior to the way we do them, but the more time you spend getting to understand that culture, which can only really be done if you speak the language, then the more you’ll start to see that often the way they do things is at least equal to if not better than the way we do them.
Being able to take the best from every culture and apply it to your own life is the best way to create a life that is truly free, open minded, and independent!
Reason 5: Skills like problem solving and dealing with abstract concepts are increased when you study a foreign language.
Studying foreign languages has been proven to improve your brainpower in many different ways. It literally increases your quantities of grey matter!
Because you need to memorise in order to learn a second language, and once you’ve learned that language your brain subconsciously switches between the two languages, making sure that you don’t say the wrong word at the wrong time, your brain gets very good at focussing on tasks and ignoring distractions.
This type of deep thinking ability improves what are known as your “executive functions”, mainly located in your prefrontal cortex. These skills are used every single day of your life, in every area of your life, and the better you are at them, the better your life will be in general.
Learning a foreign language has even been proven to stave off senility and Alzheimer’s disease – keeping our minds active well into old age!
Reason 6: Dealing with another culture enables people to gain a more profound understanding of their own culture.
As you learn more about another language, at the same time you learn about the culture of the language that you are studying. Language and culture are bound together in many more ways than we realise.
Just think about all our Australian idioms. Things like “she’ll be right” and even the word “mate” tell us a lot about our heritage and also our view of the world. More recently, think about words such as “cool” or “hip” and how these words shape our reality – making us think in terms of how socially acceptable or significant something is.
As we learn another language, it helps to to better understand not just our own language, but also our own culture. Suddenly we have a point of comparison for everything, whereas previously there was just one reality.
Reason 7: The study of foreign languages teaches and encourages respect for other peoples: it fosters an understanding of the interrelation of language and human nature.
Foreign Language study creates more positive attitudes and less prejudice toward people who are different.
As mentioned above, the more time you spend studying another language and another culture, the better you’ll come to understand it. And this understanding stretches out well beyond the bounds of that culture alone.
The more you understand different cultures in general, the more respect and understanding you’ll have for people who think differently to the way you do.
This tolerance and understanding won’t just give you a better understanding of the world, but it’ll even help you in your intimate relationships. We often even have differences of habit or opinion from people in our immediate environment (spouses and family included!) and being able to see things from other people’s viewpoints is only going to help you to improve those relationships.
Reason 8: Foreign languages open the door to art, music, dance, fashion, cuisine, film, philosophy, science…
The intimate link between language and culture extends into that culture’s art, music, food, and almost every other part of life.
Being able to understand another language will give you a whole new appreciation for and understanding of the creative output of that culture.
Have you ever read a Pablo Neruda poem in Spanish? Or listened to a Shakira song and understood the words? Or watched a Pedro Almodovar film without the subtitles and followed along? Believe me – it’s a totally different experience from the one that you have if you don’t understand Spanish.
Reason 9: So you can teach your kids another language
Do you have kids or do you want to have kids?
Kids are fantastic at learning languages, as their brains are designed to soak them up like a sponge.
If one or both of the parents speak another language, then it will be so easy to pass that skill along to their children.
And then all the great things we’ve talked about above – the kids will have those from the very start of their lives!
Reason 10: It’s fun!
Last but not least, learning another language is a whole lot of fun!
It might seem hard at first, like anything that’s worthwhile, but once you start to actually be able to speak and understand even just a little bit – it gets a whole lot more interesting!
Imagine being able to communicate in public with a friend or partner while nobody else around you can understand. Or order from a waiter in a restaurant in their own language? Or simply not sound like a total fool every time you try to pronounce a word in a foreign language!
Most importantly, though, it’s the experiences you can have and the people you can meet that will make learning another language truly worthwhile.
I’ve travelled all over the world, and the places where I had the most amazing experiences were always the places where I could speak the language of the people of the country I was travelling in.
So, how do I learn a language then?
There is only one way to learn a language, and that is through practice. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad you are in the beginning – the more you practice, the easier it will get.
Many people make the mistake of trying to learn a language from a book or an app, but that is like trying to learn to play tennis or play the guitar from a book or an app (without practising at the same time).
While of course there is some theory that can be picked up through solo study, the best way to really get fluent is simply by practising as much as absolutely possible.
Take some live classes, find other people who want to practice their English and do a language exchange, get friends or even a partner who speaks the language you want to learn, or travel to a country where that language is spoken.
The more you practice, the better you’ll get. It’s just a matter of time.
And that’s really all there is to it!
Anyone can learn a language. We’ve all learned one language and we can do it again. Maybe you struggled in high school to learn a language, but that’s probably because the way they teach languages in high school is terrible.
The best way to learn is with a teacher who will make you practise as much as possible!
Which language should I learn?
This is another great question, and one that I’m afraid I’m going to have to give you a biased answer for.
It’s Spanish of course!!
If you don’t have a good reason to learn another language, then I would definitely recommend starting with Spanish. And apart from my own bias, there are a number of good reasons why:
- Spanish is similar enough to English to make it easy for English speakers to start to learn.
- Spanish is phonetic, which means that every letter is pronounced the same in every word. This makes the pronunciation very easy (much easier than English!)
- Spanish is everywhere! Over 400 million people in over 20 different countries speak Spanish, making it very useful. Not only that, but many of the world’s best songs, books, movies, and poems are all written in Spanish!
- Spain and Latin America are cheap and beautiful! If you’re thinking of travelling, then Spain and Latin America are some of the most beautiful places on earth. And not only that – but each country is so different that you can get a huge variety of culture while still speaking the same language.
I really hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and are now inspired to start learning a foreign language!
If you are interested in learning Spanish, here are some frequently asked questions that we get from our students all the time:
How long will it take me to learn Spanish?
For basic communication, we recommend at least 6 months of study with us. Our classes are only 1.5 hours per week, though, so if you’re doing more intensive study than that then you’ll be able to learn quicker!
To be fluent in any language can take 2-3 years, so this is not something you’re going to learn overnight. However, if you start now, and practise as often as you can, then before you know it you’ll be able to speak with confidence!
What type of Spanish should I learn?
You might have heard that the Spanish from Latin America is different from the Spanish in Spain. Even throughout Latin America, Spanish varies from country to country. Many people are worried about what “type” of Spanish they are going to learn.
The answer is – it doesn’t matter!
Just like it doesn’t matter if you learn English in the US, the UK, or Australia, it’s not going to matter which type of Spanish you learn. Everyone can understand each other easily enough, and in the end, you’re probably going to speak Spanish like an Australian anyway!