I recently read an article in the BBC that during 2020, the number of native English speakers learning a foreign language for the first time had more than doubled.
Surprised? So was I.
Because, typically, English speakers are known for being monolingual and proud of it. Ever heard any version of the following…
“English is spoken all around the world.”
“Most other people already know English, why would I want to learn another language?”
“I already speak the best language, why do I need to learn anything else?”
“I’m too old to learn another language anyway.”
“English is easy, and [insert other language here] is too hard.”
Over the first 30 years of my life, I confidently spewed all of the above. Until I married a Mexican, moved to México, and realized my brain really could understand verb conjugation.
So why should you learn another language?
And why are so many monolinguals deciding to finally venture into the murky world of bilingualism?
While I can’t speak for everyone, here are my reasons (besides moving to a new country) to start learning a new language:
Increased Brain Function — We know stimulating your brain neurons to learn something new (from music to sewing to French) helps form new connections and keeps you less likely to form early onset of dementia. No matter how old you are, picking up a new language challenges you to use your brain in an innovative way.
Comfort in Ambiguity — While this idea may sound scary to some, being able to understand that not everything translates word for word into another language can help you become more comfortable in the gray areas of difficult topics. After a politically charged year, realizing that the middle ground is usually somewhat closer to reality can be found in also realizing that there is more than one way to express your thoughts.
Cultural Awareness — You can expand your cultural awareness in your first language, no doubt, from watching documentaries, reading, and traveling. But you will never fully experience another culture until you think their thoughts. Being able to understand humor and idioms in another language helps you evaluate both the differences and similarities between two cultures.
Overcoming Fear and Frustration — To be honest, this is probably the biggest challenge for most people when learning a second language. You go from being competent to downright stupid half the time. You fear people laughing at your gaffes. Or, even worse, when you use the language and people don’t understand you, the frustration mounts. Learning how to deal with the anxieties and challenges that come from learning a new language can build your personal resilience that will benefit all areas of your life.
Expanded Enjoyment — Now that I am comfortable in Spanish, I can enjoy more movies and series in my second language. I have made connections with people who don’t know English and am able to form new friendships. Traveling to Spanish-speaking countries has also become easier as I know how to move around airports, hotels, taxis, and shops with ease. You, too, will be able to expand your leisure activities, friendships, and travel destinations.
Even if we have to wait a little bit longer in 2021 to return to normal, setting a goal of learning a new language will prepare you for whatever might come our way. And when travel is able to return, I hope you are able to venture out and use your language in a practical way. But until then, there are many online platforms and meetup groups that allow you to already do many of these practices from the comfort of your own home.
So in 2021, I am now adding German to my language list. How about you?
What language will you learn?