Advantages of Learning a Second Language

A young girl with a laptop learning
Learning Languages

Learning a second language is optional for almost every formal schooling system. We usually value speaking a second language because of knowledge exposure and better career opportunities. The entire process of learning a second language is a long-term cultural sharing experience and a tool for self-improvement.

What are the advantages of learning a second language?

Learning a foreign language implies constant practice and exposure to a language-learning environment. These advantages can include maintaining mind sharpness, better communication and decision-making skills, and cultural awareness.

We can safely say that speaking a second language is a valuable acquisition for self-improvement and personal development. Though it is a time-consuming and long-term learning endeavour it has many advantages.

  • The more languages you know, the easier it is to acquire a new language. Studies reveal that the more languages you speak, the easier it is to learn other languages. From a neurosciences point of view, it seems that brain neural connections are more activated when we use a foreign language and not our native language.
  • Increases brain activity and mental sharpness. Research indicates that when speaking a foreign language brain connectivity increases. This is due to how the brain processes the information and controls it by reorganizing neural circuitries. Brain activity and understanding are faster for multilingual speakers. Numerous scientific studies demonstrate that learning a foreign language can prevent mental decline in old age. Health specialists recommend learning a language to enhance cognitive abilities and protect the mind against mental decline.
  • It may improve social connectivity and empathy. There is also an area of ability improvement related to empathy. Learning a second language can reveal different world perspectives, habits, words, and behavioural patterns regardless of age. Studies about bilingual or multilingual environments prove learning new languages favours understanding other perspectives. Consequently, perspective-taking can contribute to empathy development. An APA study shows that knowing and actively speaking a second language is a continuously refreshing process because of our social interactions.
  • It’s a rewarding cultural experience. The process of learning a second language is a long-term cultural sharing experience. Mastering a new language can give a clearer view of other nations’ customs and a deeper understanding of people. A different language means different habits, books, travelling or studying in various countries. Knowing a foreign language is like an open door to a different view of life. Apart from better memory and new nuances of words, a language is a chance to recognize cultural differences between countries and also a tool to remove communication barriers and make friends easier.
  • More career opportunities and better pay. Whether bilingual or multilingual, the more languages you speak, the better the salary band is. Proficiency in more than one language opens career opportunities locally and internationally. Companies prefer to hire bilingual or multilingual candidates to respond to their client’s needs or gain a competitive edge.

Learning A Second Language, An Asset For Self-Improvement

Speaking a foreign language can boost our memory, and creativity, and reveal to us other world perspectives. Handling more than one language from early childhood impacts brain structure and its function. We can consider second language acquisition as a valuable asset and at the same time a health benefit and a rewarding cultural experience.

Learning a second language stimulates the brain and keeps it active, which may prevent or delay neurodegenerative diseases. Overall research shows that bilingual people have a better associative memory. This means we can remember things by associating them with other things we already know or experienced, better than people who speak one language.

Knowing a second language can increase the brain’s grey matter density and white matter integrity, thus improving our thinking and understanding. The earlier we start learning another language the better. Studies prove that even if you learn a new language when you are older, you’ll still be able to improve your brain’s performance.

So, we can consider as being advantages of learning a second language maintaining our reasoning skills, increasing mental agility and postponing brain ageing. Among the benefits of second language learning, we can mention improvements in selective attention, task switching, and decision-making processes.

When Should Children Start Learning A Second Language?

Every language has its particularities and it comes with cultural differences. To master a foreign language a child needs exposure to a learning environment, acquiring new vocabulary and a lot of practice. The decision to start learning a second language would depend on access to a suitable learning community, motivation and willingness to learn.

Studies show that it is easier for children to acquire a second language if they start at an early age. Kids should start learning a second language at the same time as they learn their first language, but no later than 10 years. Children’s learning is grounded in their surrounding environment through social interactions, and listening to people. While learning a foreign language they acquire other skills like communication and even understanding their own culture by comparison.

Early exposure helps reach a native level

Early exposure to a second language increases their chances to speak a native level of the second language. According to research, the main reason children should start learning a second language really early is brain shaping through exposure to sounds, phrases, intonation and word structures. It seems that between infancy and adolescence, the brain is naturally shaped to learn languages. Children learn fast and they are able to immerse in a complex learning context.

But, not everybody agrees with early exposure to a second language for kids. Some studies recommend starting at 7 years or even 11 years because of the brain stages of development. Indeed, learning a second language is a long-term endeavour because of the complexity of languages like grammar, word structures and semantics.

There are also disadvantages of speaking a foreign language all the time. Research about first and second language learning argues that the two languages interact, even during language processing. Second language learning can facilitate or reduce first language performance, depending on the second language writing system properties.

Obviously, learning a second language is a time-consuming endeavour and not everyone is gifted to master it. But, we should also be aware that it brings perks like improved memory and recall abilities and better complex problem-solving skills.  

However, by learning a second language we become more creative, and smarter and maintain our mental health in the long term. Our life course and standard of living can be conditioned by the exposure to and use of a foreign language. It is like taking a deep and intensive knowledge emersion with the power to enhance our thinking flexibility and agility.