Why You Should Learn a Second Language

Hola, hoy voy a discutir los beneficios de aprender una idioma segunda y voy a convencerles estar de acuerdo conmigo. Hi, today I’m going to discuss the benefits of learning a second language and I’m going to convince you to agree with me.

I’ve been taking Spanish classes since kindergarten, and I recently completed my Spanish minor at UNC. Not only has it been fun to learn throughout school, but it has also been exciting to keep up with it on my own and use it in other countries. At first, I didn’t realize that learning a second language had so many different benefits for me and my life. Everyone should learn a second language because it provides health benefits, opens you up to new people and cultures and allows you to develop personal/professional skills.

I think it’s safe to assume that everyone wants to be healthy, right? Learning a language is beneficial for many reasons, but if there’s one that stands out among the rest, it’s the countless ways it improves your health. Research compiled by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) shows that learning a second language leads to increased cognitive ability and brain function as well as improved memory skills and attention span. A study from York University in Toronto discovered that of dementia patients, those who were bilingual developed dementia an average of 4.5 years later than their monolingual counterparts. I think it would be hard to argue against developing a healthier mind and body as a byproduct of doing this.

Learning a second language is also a great way to open yourself up to new cultures around the world, because the reality is, the United States is a melting pot of cultures in itself, and there are countless other cultures to explore around the world. The ACTFL reported that language learners develop a more positive attitude toward their target language’s culture and people. It will only benefit your appreciation of cultural diversity and allow you to fully immerse yourself in new cultures if you are learning the language. Additionally, many people in the U.S. have family members that live in other countries, and learning a new language is often incredibly helpful if not crucial to communicating with them.  My dad is from the Netherlands, and some of my family still lives there today. My cousin, Stacey, is my age but grew up with her native language as Dutch. The first time we met, Stacey had only begun to learn English and we couldn’t really say much to each other. However, over the years, her English has rapidly improved, and now we’re able to speak English to each other almost like she’s a native speaker. In return, I’ve started trying to learn Dutch so I can use it the next time we visit. If she hadn’t started learning English in school when she was younger, we would never be able to have conversations. Learning another language is incredibly valuable when it means that you can speak to your family members from different countries.

Being able to gain perspective and learn about other cultures also develops your sense of empathy and understanding for those that are different from you. Between my sophomore and junior year of college, I decided to study abroad through UNC in Sevilla, Spain. I spent six weeks there taking Spanish for business classes and living with a host family, and I quickly learned that Spanish culture is different from American culture. My host mom, Ines, spoke zero English. Without having learned Spanish, I wouldn’t have been able to talk to her at all — but with the limited skills that I did have, I was able to have full conversations with her, and we were able to bond over the TV show, “Friends,” which we watched every day during lunch, dubbed in Spanish. While I was living in Spain, most of the people there knew some English and could help me out if I struggled with my Spanish, but it was extremely helpful to be immersed in the culture and language fully so that I could further develop my skills and force myself to think and speak in Spanish all the time. Studying in Spain for six weeks didn’t make me fluent, but it definitely improved my Spanish and gave me immersion experience I couldn’t get at home.

In addition to health benefits and cultural appreciation, there are several professional and personal skills that can be developed from learning a second language. The ACTFL has cited research suggesting that problem-solving, decision making, observation of detail, multi-tasking and creativity all have grown as a result. The organization has also compiled research to show the positive effects of learning a new language on academic performance, reporting higher SAT and ACT scores. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences reported that bilingual people have access to a wider variety of jobs out of school, as well as improved communication and networking skills. Virtually every job in any industry could benefit from bilingual people, whether that’s in the medical field, engineering, business, media, etc. International travel is also made easier when you can speak at least some of that country’s language. 75% of the world doesn’t speak English, even though it may feel like most countries have qualified English speakers. Learning a second language also improves your adaptability to situations and overall confidence.

The Pew Research Center reported that a median of 92% of European kids learn a second language in school, while only 20% of American kids learn a second language in school and 7.5% of college students are enrolled in a foreign language course. This statistic is crazy! But school isn’t the only way to learn a second language.

There are a bunch of excuses you could make for not learning a second language — it’s hard, it’s expensive, I don’t have time for that, I’m out of school, etc. If you don’t want to spend money on Rosetta Stone or have time for in-person classes, you can do it for free on apps like DuoLingo. Even five minutes a day could be helpful, and learning it a little bit at a time will make it much easier. Additionally, there are several languages that share the same roots as English, so a lot of the words sound like their English versions anyway. Who knows what kind of doors a second language could open up for you? Wouldn’t it be cool to impress people with a language that they don’t know? It’s an awesome skill to keep in your back pocket, and a skill that provides you with health benefits, a view into new cultures and an opportunity to gain valuable personal and professional abilities. Deben aprender una idioma nueva porque con muchas idiomas, las posibilidades son interminable. You should learn a new language because, with multiple languages, the possibilities are endless.









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