I once knew a girl from Lithuania who informed that from as early as 4 years old schools in her country teach multiple languages, so that by the time they are going to University they are already fluent, or partially fluent in at least 3 or 4 languages. Having been raised and educated in Scotland (which is renowned for its academic excellence) I came to the realisation that us English speakers are at a disadvantage. Second languages are not taught in schools until around the age of 11 or 12, which already sets us behind other countries by approximately 6 or 7 years. But why does all this matter? You speak English in your own country, most other countries that you would travel to you can get by with English as the locals usually know a fair bit of English themselves, and hotels prefer to hire multilinguals. Well it is this kind of arrogance frequently portrayed by English speakers that is causing us to miss out on the amazing benefits of being multilingual.
- You become better at English: According to a study by the University of Melbourne, studying other languages helps you understand the mechanics of grammar structure - in all languages.
- You become more intelligent: When you speak multiple languages your brain has to switch between different language centres in your brain and recognise which language is being spoken. Well this cognitive skill carries into other problem solving areas in your life as well.
- You improve your memory: You like working out your body at the gym, but you may be neglecting your most important muscle - your brain. Multilinguals learn and memorise multiple phrases, words and verb tenses in different languages. Well that memorisation is like a bench press for your brain, improving it in many other aspects of your life.
- Become a secret agent: Well not exactly, but a study carried out by the University of Pompeu Fabra in Spain suggests that multiliguals are more perceptive of their surroundings and notice small details, others may overlook.
- Become a local: When you go to other countries you will be able to converse with the locals in their own language, a feat which many locals would deem admirable enough to give you the inside scoop on the best places to go in their town or country. You will also be able to have real conversations with people, adding a whole new dimension to your trip. And by speaking the local language you also narrow down the chances of thieves and scam artists labelling you a tourist with a big money sign over your head.
- Get that promotion: You have that meeting for a new deal with a German company. The meeting was in English, but you feel the meeting never went as well as you hoped. Well the after meeting dinner or drinks is the perfect opportunity to converse with the potential client in their own language. After all, it is their down time now and they probably want to talk in their own language to relax. If you can enter that comfort zone with them, then maybe they will be impressed enough to tip the scales on their decision and sign the contract.
- Expand your job opportunities: This one is simple. If you speak multiple languages you are more valuable to an employer. To call centre staff, international business folk, airport workers, diplomats, politicians, military personnel and hundreds more you are a valuable asset if you are multilingual. If two people with equal degrees of education go for a job and one person speaks only English and the other five languages. Who do you think the employer is going to hire?
- Meet and make new friends: Being multilingual opens up the doors for the amount of people you can meet as you wont have any language barriers to overcome when meeting new people. Make friends with the person sitting next to you at the bar, or on the aeroplane, or anywhere for that matter. Just become a more socially diverse individual.
I hope in this comparatively short list to number of benefits there are, I have convinced you of the immense benefits of speaking more than one language. But to prove I am not a hypocrite of my own words, I can assure you that I am following this lifestyle myself. Having recently just embarked on my journey of becoming fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, German and Portuguese. I hope you try too!
Goodbye, Au Revoir, Adiós, Ciao, Auf Wiedersehen & Tchau.