Why I Study 4 Languages and You Should Too
Learning Languages Across the Globe
Approximately 1 out of every 4 Americans has conversational fluency in a second language. Spanish is the most widely used second language, landing at 55% of bilingual speakers in the US. Many of these speakers have learned English as a second language or primarily speak Spanish at home. In contrast, approximately 55% of Europeans are fluent in a second language, and about 25% are fluent in a third. Luxembourg boasts that 99% of its population can masterfully converse in a second language.
It appears that it is seemingly easier to learn another language when already living in Europe, rather than in the United States. In a way, this makes sense. While the US is comprised of individual states that all have English as their primary language, European countries are surrounded by different languages. It would make sense that Europeans would have to be at least bilingual.
The majority of school districts in the US education system do not address foreign language until high school, where generally only 1-2 years are required. According to linguists, this is nearly pointless. In Europe, children are required to learn another language in grade school and many are expected to continue for at least 9 years.
The key difference? The learning age.
Our brains are best wired for language learning before the age of 12. That is why children can learn their native tongue so well without, for the most part, having to take grammar classes. Learning of a second language in Europe occurs well before this window begins to close, but in the United States, the opportunity has already been passed for years.
Why is it important to learn a foreign language?
I could write about this all day. Actually I could probably write seven books about this. There are a couple things I will focus on, to save time. Learning a foreign language is arguably one of the best things you can do!
Widen Your Horizons
This may seem obvious and even when I was beginning to dabble in languages, I knew this would come with the territory. New words for old things means I am learning. Great, awesome, A+.
But what I didn't realize, and what quickly astonished me, was that it was not just learning new words for old things. It was learning to see the world through someone else's eyes. Language is the vehicle by which you explain what you see and experience in the world. Language is how you share and it is done differently across the world. Whether it is the fact that the languages used by Eskimos have 50+ words for snow. What would you have to see or experience to be able to describe each one distinctively? Grammatical gender brings in a whole different beast.
Assigning a gender to an object can give you some preconceptions or unconscious ideas about this item. I could write ten books on this one.
Grow Your Brain
Every time you learn something new, your brain creates more pathways and routes to access this information. In essence, your brain is growing. Not physically; it won't begin to bulge from your skull, but you will grow and improve the countless streams and links of data in your mind. Learning a foreign language will help expand the connections in your brain and increase gray matter (the good stuff) in your noggin.
Make New Friends
Throughout my traveling, I have learned that approaching someone in their own language will get you much farther than assuming everyone speaks English. If you were in the US and someone came up to you speaking Russian, you would be confused and maybe even feel that is rude. Americans are unfortunately notorious for not conforming to the local language customs or taking the time to study their language. You are much more likely to get help by asking in their language, and they will appreciate your effort even if you butcher it (in most cases).
Interested in learning a foreign language but not sure where to start? Check out some of my tips here