Five Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” –Charlemagne

May 3, 2017

Many college counselors, like our friends at Top Tier Admissions, speak about summer as a time to go “above and beyond.” We couldn’t agree more. Beyond looking great on your college application, learning a foreign language has many benefits that could change your life forever.

Here are just a few:

1. Boost your brainpower


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People who speak two or more languages have significantly better overall cognitive abilities than those who speak only one. This includes increased memory, improved problem-solving, critical thinking, and planning skills, as well as an improved ability to multi-task. Your brain is being challenged to switch between languages, as well as to receive input in multiple forms, and then negotiate the meaning. That’s a pretty good workout for your brain, and the result is that your cognitive abilities will improve across all areas -- not just in your language class.

And, a bonus: people who know more than one language are able to pay attention for 20% longer on average than their monolingual friends. (Now that certainly would come in handy during a long class period, wouldn’t it?)

2. Raise your test scores

Students who study a world language for just one year score an average of 38 points higher on the SATs. Even better: students who took four years of a world language showed scores that were more than a hundred points higher on average.

3. Expand your career opportunities


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Given the connected global society that we live in, more and more people recognize the importance of learning an additional language, and there is increased value placed on bilingualism. Many professions in the United States and around the world require daily interaction with people who speak many different languages.

If your C.V. includes fluency in a second language you have given yourself an advantage; your chances of landing a job are greater than for people who only speak one language. And guess what else? According to an MIT study, people who know two or more languages earn an average of $128,000 more in their lifetimes.

4. Build a gateway into another culture


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Language is the best introduction to a new culture – you are exposed to the cultural traditions that are tied to learning a language. This increased cultural awareness provides for enriched interpersonal experiences such as building relationships, appreciating different ethnic and cultural values, and discovering unique histories and traditions.

Bilingualism is a major asset in an increasingly interconnected world. Having the ability and willingness to engage with many different kinds of people can go a long way in better understanding and tackling global challenges, and in truly making yourself a citizen of the world.

And best of all, you can travel to foreign countries and dive right into the culture. By knowing both language and culture you’ll be able to travel like a local in other countries, and have experiences you could never have as a monolingual individual.

5.   Improve your first language

As Geoffrey Willans said: “You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.”

Part of learning a second language is learning the mechanics: grammar, tenses, structures. As you study this in your foreign language, you’ll also gain a new awareness and understanding of your first language. This, in turn, will help make you a better writer, speaker, and communicator -- in all of your languages.