Opa! How Learning a Foreign Language Can Change Your Life

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Traveling can be a fun and enlightening experience, but not so much when you realize you misinterpreted the waiter on your overseas trip only to order slimy insects on a bed of rice. Ew. But news flash, Womanistas: while English may be spoken all over the world, it’s not the language everyone speaks or understands.

Learning a new language is a big deal and might even be extremely intimidating but with the help of technology and apps like Duolingo or Babbel, it’s never been easier. Not to mention, learning a foreign language can change your life dramatically.

Improves math skills
Math isn’t exactly fun and when you’re not naturally numerically talented, it can be even harder. But in a study for the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers, those who study a foreign language for 90 minutes a week score significantly higher in mathematics and language arts than those who don’t. In case you didn’t notice, learning a new language not only involves discipline and responsibility, but a great deal of structural and logical processes which shape your understanding in comprehending numbers.

Increase creativity
Living a more creative life is something we each aspire to every day, yet springing up ideas at the flip of a switch rarely ever happens. When we learn a new language, we actually end up flexing more of our creative muscle as we piece together a puzzle of comprehension. Every language has its own grammar and through each grammatical understanding, meaning is conveyed, which is the primary driver of our creativity as it forces us to think on differing patterns. In a study from the National Endowment for the Arts, individuals who study a foreign language present a greater flexibility in “out of the box” thinking skills.

Protects brain against aging
While most of us consider improving our brain health by figuring out which superfoods to eat or new habits to implement, learning a different language can help you to live longer. ABC News reports adding a foreign philology to your life can prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease or dementia by four to five years as it increases the brain’s language center and “hippocampus” — the area responsible for forming, storing, and retrieving memories.

As a method more powerful than medication, the American Academy of Neurology discovered speaking more than one language increases the amount and growth of neural pathways in the brain. Besides heightening cognizance, it also allows information to be processed through more communication channels in your brain.

Enriches career opportunities
According to the Department of Modern Languages and Classics at Ball State University, learning new languages makes you a valuable asset in a number of careers as the requirement for multilingual employees increases. Whether it be French, Japanese, or Russian, think of how indispensable you become in the workplace. Moreover, if your career permits, you can move up more easily and network with others on an international level. Did we also mention the chance to travel abroad because of your newly acquired asset?

Quick learning abilities
While finally being able to understand opera music or that artsy foreign Oscar-winning movie is a great perk, learning a foreign language can significantly increase cognitive developmental abilities so that you process information faster. As a course in mental agility, learning a new language is an excellent workout in cognitive problem solving. The Journal of Experimental Child Psychologysuggests those who study various forms of speech are able to absorb and retain more information, which ultimately shortens the learning curve when it comes to learning new things.

Enhances focus and perspective
Speaking multiple languages not only makes you a better communicator in both verbal and nonverbal arenas, but it can effectively enhance focus and perspective. In a study from Northwestern University, researchers found multilingual individuals were better at filtering out distractions, irrelevant information, and unimportant input to help them stay focused.

In addition to bolstering brain function and attention, a newly acquired vocabulary helps you become more aware of the values, perspectives, and beliefs of others. Researchers at the University of Melbourne found exposure to different ways of speaking about or understanding our world through language make us more open to broadening our "own" world. Not only does this heighten compassion, but it also increases sensitivity.