Learning a new language is more than just a learning experience. It’s a commitment to a new you, a commitment to a different culture, and a commitment to all the mind blanks, pitfalls and vulnerabilities that come with it.
Learning French for the past 2 and a bit years has definitely challenged my perception of how much I know of the English language. Don’t get me wrong; learning a language can make me feel like little kid in an adult bookstore. I see words I have no idea about, and when I try to pronounce these words, I start giggling at the sheer sound of them. I still remember saying ‘oui’ for the first time while trying not to laugh at my petty attempt to incorporate a Parisian accent into another word for doing a number one. Fast forward a few lessons later and I was learning how to describe my bedroom. How this would come up in natural conversation? I don’t know, but being tested on introducing myself and describing my surroundings just became a regular thing. I have no doubts that my French beginners teacher basically knew my bedroom like the back of his hand by the time I had finished the level.
It’s all fun and rewarding until you find out that you’ve spent 2 years learning the equivalent of what a11 year old French student would learn in primary school. So to serve as a reminder to me as to why I’m actually trying to do this whole ‘learning a language’ thing, I’ve tried to sum up the many perks (and a downfall) of learning a foreign language.
Remember what I said about how learning a new language is a commitment to a new you? I don’t just mean that in a figurative sense, as Charlemagne says “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” I know it sounds a little crazy but when you learn another language, you think in that language.
There have been countless times where I’ve talked to myself in French, both in my head and out loud, and realised half way that I’m actually using the language in everyday life (in the correct manner? Now that’s another question completely). And although it takes a while to get there, I guarantee you that the many ‘aha’ moments you confront outweigh the time and effort to reach that point.
Increased Cultural Sensitivity
Not only do you learn to speak the language better, learning a new language can help you be more aware of different cultural settings. Many cultures have different ways of behaving which are deemed acceptable. Learning a new language helps you build bridges across cultural gaps, helping you to shape your cultural fluency. Why do the Japanese make an effort to slurp their noodles? Why do the Taiwanese handle business cards with the utmost sacredness? Why does your friend ask you to leave your shoes at the entrance? These may be weird to some but learning a new language may give you a new respect for why people behave the way that they do.
Makes you Smarter
If this isn’t convincing enough, being able to speak a foreign language makes you smarter. Learning a foreign language enables your brain to recognise, make meaning and communicate in different language systems. Studies show that students who study foreign languages score better on standardised tests than those who are monolingual, people who are bilingual are also more perceptive to their surroundings, and their enhanced understanding of grammar, conjugations and sentence structure help improve their own English.
If you’re looking for a job, it isn’t just enough these days to own a degree. The difference between landing that job requires the ability to stand out from the crowd, and learning a new language may just be that one-way to stick out.
Knowing a second language can also lead to salary bonuses, according to The Economist here are a few secondary languages and their bonuses.
-Spanish: 1.5 percent bonus
-French: 2.3 percent bonus
-German: 3.8 percent bonus
Language Faux Pas
There are very few downsides of learning a language. However, the potential for making awkward language blunders is one. When you’re struggling to find a word in French, you may resort to using an English word in a French accent. Sadly, this doesn’t always work (not speaking from experience or anything…). One of the French faux pas I can think of is the word ‘excité’, which very well sounds like the English word ‘excited’. Say for example you were writing a letter to a friend saying you’re very excited to see them. Using the word ‘excité’ sounds very tempting, right? No my friend, don’t slip into that trap. If you used the word ‘excité’ you have just said you were ‘aroused’. You’ll get more than just a few weird looks if you use that word in front of your French-speaking friends.
So there you go, if there were anything as equally frustrating as it is rewarding, it would be learning a new language. Apart from all the bragging rights learning a foreign language comes with, it is hard work. But when it comes down to it, it definitely feels good walking around with another moderately speaking French buddy pretending to communicate fluently in French. Then again, that good feeling may turn into embarrassment. We’ll take it as it comes.