The Emotional Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language

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The Emotional Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language

By Kayla Matthews   /     May 22, 2015  /     Culture & Communication  /     , , ,

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You might not think that learning a foreign language is especially important to your daily productivity.

You might also wonder why I spend so much time writing about the benefits and reasons why you should learn at least one foreign language.  After all, I’m a productivity blogger – not a linguist.

The Ties between Language Learning and Productivity

For the last year and a half I’ve been learning Japanese and, the truth is, I feel that linguistic development is very much tied to our mental processes and our productivity – in the everyday and throughout our lives.

In the time I’ve spent studying Japanese, I feel I’ve also become more productive and more mentally engaged in my day-to-day activities. I can’t say for sure that these feelings are directly related to my language learning, but I think that they are – at least partially. After all, a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and I think that a mind given exercise is more likely to stay active.

Research also suggests that differences in language use, even small differences, can cause different perceptions of the world and how we view reality. In this way, learning another language can help you gain new perspectives and insights into how you see the world each day.

Multi-lingual people are reportedly more perceptive of the world around them, better able to focus on specific tasks and have better memories; learning another language can even help prevent dementia.

For all of the above reasons, I feel that language learning and productivity go hand in hand.  When you can think about problems in multiple ways, you’re likely to solve them more efficiently and productively.

When you can focus better, you can get more done.

And yet, approximately 40 percent of the world’s population only speaks one language.

For many, being monolingual may not be a choice. Lack of resources or access to educational programs that teach foreign languages may cause barriers for some individuals who want to learn a new language.

But for the rest of that 40 percent, I can’t help but think that a good portion of us simply don’t want to learn a foreign language because we think that it will be a) boring b)too time consuming or c)too challenging.

But I can tell you that language learning can be extremely fun and emotionally rewarding. The trick is simply picking a language that interests you.

I was able to learn some Spanish in high school, but I wasn’t really interested in it and, as a result, have forgotten a lot of it. Learning Japanese, however, is insanely interesting to me, and much more fun than Spanish class ever was.

Below are a few things that I find emotionally stimulating about learning a foreign language, which I hope will encourage you to give language learning a second thought.

Pick a language and culture that interests you, and hopefully you’ll experience these benefits as well.

foreign language boooks

You Always Have Something to do When You’re Bored

When you’ve been studying the same language for a while, you’ll probably find yourself mentally practicing the names of nouns and places in your secondary language. This can be surprisingly very entertaining when you’re stuck in traffic, in line at a store or waiting around for anything else that isn’t very exciting.

Sometimes when I’m stuck in traffic, I read the numerals on speed limit signs and license plates to myself in Japanese. Not only does this make my time on the road more enjoyable but it also does a lot to keep my counting skills in tact (although I’m sure they’re still far from perfect).

You Can Connect with So Many New People

Now that I can do some basic typing in Japanese, I’ve started following quite a few Japanese Instagram accounts. Few things are cooler than getting on Instagram and seeing up-to-the-minute pictures of Japanese cherry blossoms, city streets in Tokyo and all the kawaii (“cute”) culture that Japan has to offer.

Of course, there are many more ways to connect with new people beyond Instagram. You can befriend people who live in other countries and ask them directly what their daily lives are like and what their town or city is like.

r/LanguageLearning is a great place to safely connect with fellow language learners who are looking for tips about learning a foreign language, or someone to practice with.

You Experience Your Favorite Cultures More Fully

In my case, a big motivator for my desire to learn Japanese is my love of Japanese anime. I don’t mind reading subtitles, but I’ve always thought it would be neat to have a more in-depth understanding of what is being said in my favorite shows.

If there’s a hobby or event you enjoy that is specific to a particular culture, learning that culture’s language is likely a great way to boost your interaction with and understanding of that activity.

For example, if you love beer and beer fests, why not learn German? Or if you find Dia De Los Muertos interesting, look into learning Spanish. Likewise, if you really like foreign heavy metal bands, maybe learning Norwegian or Swedish would be a better fit for you.

By connecting your language learning to a hobby or activity that you’re passionate about, you’ll have an extra source of motivation to continue learning.

You Gain New Insights about Your Daily Life

As I already mentioned, when you learn a foreign language you tend to also learn a lot about the culture of the people who speak it. This, in turn, can make you think about your daily life in new ways. Sometimes it makes you grateful for the way you live and, other times, it makes you resolve to do things differently in the future.

For example, the Japanese language is very structured around one’s social standing. The way you phrase your words relates to your social position as compared to the person you’re speaking to.

While, in the U.S., you might greet your boss and coworkers the same (“Good morning!”), in Japanese you would greet them differently (“Ohaiyou” vs “Ohaiyou gozaimasu”). You would use the later phrase for your boss because you want to show more respect for your boss as a means of acknowledging that he or she is your superior. To not do so would be inappropriate and disrespectful.  In the U.S., it would kind of be like addressing your boss with “Hey man!”

Sometimes I’m grateful that I can speak to most people using the same words and phrases. Other times, I think it would be good to try to speak more respectfully to others.  Either way, these are thoughts that I have because I’ve learned something about Japanese language and culture. If I hadn’t started studying Japanese, I wouldn’t think about these things.

While these are just a small handful of the many, many emotional benefits of learning a foreign language, I hope they’ll inspire you to finally take the plunge and start learning that language you’ve wanted to know more about.

If you already know or are studying a second language, what are some of your favorite emotional benefits of doing so? Tell me in the comments section below!

Images via Kaboompics

About Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews writes Productivity Theory and is constantly seeking to provide new tips and hacks to keep you motivated and inspired! You can also find her on Huffington Post and Tiny Buddha, and follow her on Google+ and Twitter to stay up to date on her latest productivity posts!

3 Comments

  1. Frank Says: June 2, 2015 12:46 pm

    Nice post Kayla.

    Mitko from Swipes recommended your blog.

    I teach private English classes here in Brazil, and can echo many of the points you’ve put forward here… not only as someone who speaks foreign languages, but also from what I observe every day in my students from a variety of professional backgrounds. Heck, for some of them, learning English is even a therapy. It is not uncommon to hear that some of my students who previously went to therapy sessions substituted those with an extra English class. That’s got to say something, right?

    Reply this comment
    • Kayla Matthews Says: June 2, 2015 12:52 pm

      Hi Frank,

      Thanks for reading! I could definitely see the therapeutic elements of learning a foreign language. I think one of the things that I like best about it is that learning a language really forces me to focus all of my attention on my learning, so lots of the other “noise” of life (stressful thoughts and whatnot) don’t exist while I’m studying. It’s really nice; I’m glad your students enjoy it so much, too!

      Reply this comment
  2. Pingback: 5 reasons why learning a language is like trying to lose weight - alterling

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