Recently, I have been reflecting on how ingrained languages are in our societies, and how vital they are to connecting emotionally to other people. It seems odd that relatively few people pursue languages as an essential skill rather than as a luxury or a hobby. After all, emphasis on languages has far reaching and surprising effects.
The value of speaking a second or third language is obvious for certain career paths, such as international affairs or any academic research that requires in-depth study of a foreign culture or history. For example, it makes sense that an anthropologist studying Incan cities in Peru would learn Spanish in order to interact with local experts.
Less obvious is how helpful speaking another language is even if a career field doesn’t currently require proficiency in multiple languages. The process of learning a foreign language establishes millions of new neural pathways, making it a mental gymnastics exercise. Those who speak multiple languages are more capable of approaching problems from new angles, and those who regularly use their skills to translate from one language to another exhibit higher academic performance and self-efficacy. Interestingly, children who are raised in bilingual households will start speaking later than children raised in monolingual families. But once they do start speaking, they will be equally fluent in both languages.
With the world’s increasing international interdependence, all careers will soon benefit from and even require multilingualism. For all of us who were raised only speaking one language, it’s not too late! Keep studying other languages; it’s definitely worth it for your brain, even if that language doesn’t currently seem useful in your everyday life. Besides, it’s fun!