Some reasons for learning a new language
So you have decided to learn a new language? From the outset, let me say that your decision to invest some of your time and energies into learning a new language is a really great one and that you will, if you do invest said energy and time, find your new persuit a very rewarding one. Every new language learning decision is usually based on a specific reason for learning, not just a vague “I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish,” for instance.
So what might your specific reasons be? Do you have a specific holiday or travel destination in mind and fancy learning some of the local lingo? Are you going to say, Spain or France or Italy on work posting? Is is simply that you have some leisure time and have chosen language learning as a hobby?
All these reasons are perfectly commendable and they tend to represent some of the more usual and common reasons for taking up a new language as a passtime. But have you thought about some of the perhaps equally admirable reasons for new language learning? Have you ever thought about some of the benefits? Let’s look at some of these.
Talking to the locals
When you have even a few words in the language of the country your’re visiting, you have entered into a whole new world of indigineous culture and opportunity. You ask for your dinner in the local language, having been able to read the menu first in that language, you get it right – and feel a million dollars – when the waiter instantly understands you and goes off with a smile to fetch your order. He comes back, and asks you where you’re from and you have a little conversation. Similarly, you go to the theatre, cinema or a museum and you book your ticket using the language you learned. You have entered into the everday culture of that country. You’re boyed up and enthusiastic to continue your studies and improve further and what’s more, your experience of that country has been enriched.
Saying something in an emergency
Have you ever been in a situation where you have needed the local language to explain when you needed help or something had gone wrong? I know I have. I have needed to explain to a taxi firm on the phone that I needed a cab urgently, had to give my name – spell my name in the Spanish alphabet, – give my address and destination. I have needed to go to a police station when I and my friends had some items taken in Alicante, had to go to a pharmacist in a village in Greece and indeed one in Spain where no English was known. The emergency could consist of anything, from any of the above, to having an accident when hiking in the hills, your child becoming ill on holiday and having to go to a doctor or hospital, etc.
Knowing something of the language then, is not only satisfying, but important. It could even be life-saving. I think this is a stirling reason for ensuring you know something of the language of the country you’re travelling in.
If you’re staying in the country for any length of time, then making friends which you will not only write an e-mail to for a couple of times, but making real, life-long friends is a real bonus and perhaps one of the nicest outcomes of your stay. Suppose you are sent from work on a course, suppose you decide to take a long summer course or study on a gap year or an extended stay to work in your target country. Suppose even, that you travel to a country to do business or talk to prospective customers?
In all of these situations you will meet the local people, be introduced to locals and have conversations with a wide variety of people, Supposing then, that you can do this, (however haltingly or fluently) in the language of those people? Just think what a better, more engaging effect that has on them and what an impression it makes on them? Speaking someone’s language is priceless in the benefits this can have for you and certainly has an immediate effect of getting people’s attention, keeping their interest, endearing you to them and ultimately allowing you to make friends.
Benefits to the mind
Just like taking a walk in natural surroundings helps relaxation and mood learning a language has positive benefits for the mind. What are they? Well, dealing with learning a new language, learning the patterns,rules and sounds helps you maintain a healthy brain. According to Alison Mackey writing in the Guardian 4th September 2014, “people who speak more than one language fluently have better memories and are more cognitively creative and mentally flexible than monolinguals.”
In addition Mackey goes on that Canadian studies suggest that Alzheimer’s disease and the onset of dementia are diagnosed later for bilinguals than for monolinguals, meaning that knowing a second language can help us to stay cognitively healthy well into our later years.
When you are learning a new language, your brain is working on many levels. It is first and foremost grappling with a whole new set of patterns and ‘codes’, it is processing the new ‘sounds’ of the words and telling your tongue, lips and voice how to pronounce these new sounds, it is storing and memorising new vocabulary and working to understand new structures and a whole new grammar. Swedish studies claim there is evidence to believe that in doing these things, your brain is actually developing and growing.
Can I learn at any age?
In his article Learning a New Language at Any Age Helps the Brain, Christopher Wanjek writing for Life Sciences June 02, 2014 (online), looks at the studies of Dr. Thomas Bak, a lecturer at Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences who is trying to see if learning a new language when you are older has the same positive effects of aiding concentration and attention span as in younger adults.