Why You Should Learn A Foreign Language

If you’re like many of us, you spent your high school years moaning and groaning about the required language courses that you needed in order to graduate, whining as you fumbled your way through grammar lessons, pop quizzes and — the worst! — oral exams.

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Learning a second language was fun at times; remember those fiestas in Spanish and the cheese-tasting parties in French class? However, when the semester was peppered with quizzes, tests, essays and homework, the good times faded away quickly. Yet, when you strip away all of the class work and teenage angst, learning a new language can actually be incredibly fun. It’s sort of like when you graduate from school and realize that reading books can be enjoyable – just in the framework of the classroom, it had simply become another chore. Out in the real world, reading books are a respite from everyday life; they’re a way to escape, imagine, dream and explore.

Learning a new language feels the exact same way. Here are few reasons why you should boost your resolve to crack open the books again and learn:

It’s Good For You
Your brain is a muscle like any other – to keep it from atrophying, it continually requires exercise. Learning something new is a great way to force the brain to stretch and strengthen and grow, thereby keeping your mind sharp and your head clear.

Specifically, learning a foreign language as an adult has a great impact on the health of your brain. William Alexander, an op-ed contributor for The New York Times, wrote a great piece on this very topic, citing results from a 2013 study conducted by researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Northwestern University in Illinois. According to Alexander and the researchers, “… the cognitive tasks involved [with studying a foreign language as an adult] – including working memory, inductive reasoning, sound discrimination and task switching – map closely to the areas of the brain that are associated with declines due to aging.”

Your brain will be stimulated by overcoming the obstacles associated with learning a new language (different grammatical structures, unlikely pronunciations, and so on) strengthening it and protecting its faculties for years to come.

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It Expands You
We’re not talking about your social media network here, although that applies, too! We’re referring to the group of people with whom you socialize and interact, and while most of us have friends and family members that we love spending time with, it’s always
fun to broaden our relationship horizons by meeting new people.

By engaging in your community in a new, creative way, it’s likely that you’ll meet new, creative people with whom you can get to know …

Language courses at local schools are typically filled with unique people from all walks of life, united by a common goal of learning something. By engaging in your community in a new, creative way, it’s likely that you’ll meet new, creative people with whom you can get to know and, of course, practice your chosen language together.

It Prepares You
We’re sure that you don’t need too much motivation to consider planning a trip abroad, but equipping yourself with the skill of learning a new language is just one more factor to up the ante. Part of the fun of exploring an international city is immersing yourself in a completely new culture, soaking up bits and pieces of the sights, flavors and sounds as you encounter them.

Learning the language of a place that you want to visit will help you dive deeper into the climate and culture of that area, allowing you to better converse with locals (even if minimally!), read the morning newspaper, and find restaurants and shops off the beaten path, ones that the locals actually visit themselves. Knowing just a few key phrases and words will allow you to be conversational, enriching your travel experience in a very meaningful way.

Would you be interested in trying to learn a new language? If so, which one would you choose?

Images via Nicole Ziza Bauer


Rachel is the Development Director for the Touch A Life Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of exploited and trafficked children in West Africa and Southeast Asia. She currently lives in Dallas, TX, with her husband, their baby girl Ruby, and their cuddly English mastiff.

19 COMMENTS
  • Anna Elaine April 23, 2015

    I took 3 years of Japanese in high school, but like you said, I moaned and groaned the whole time. And I’m a bit upset about it now cause I don’t remember much of it at all!
    But before high school, and a little bit after high school, I started teaching myself french. I went to Europe last year and spent a little bit of time in Paris. I FELL IN LOVE WITH THE LANGUAGE! I was only able to order a coffee, say hello, thank you, and of course, ask where the toilet was…haha! But it was so inspiring to hear it from the people.

    My fiancé and I may be planning a trip to europe for our honeymoon in November, and I’m looking forward to talking with the locals more and improving my french (:

  • Hannah February 6, 2015

    It’s always been my dream to learn another language, and I’m currently in France doing my best stumbling through French. It’s absolutely rewarding, but it can also be terribly frustrating. Learning another language isn’t just about the language – you learn so many life lessons, some of the most important I’ve learned are being patient and showing grace with myself, and also opening my eyes to what so many people go through trying to learn English. It’s such a fulfilling thing! It’s something not as emphasized in the US as it is in Europe where taking not a second but also a third language is a given.

  • Carrington Bruton February 5, 2015

    I want to visit Italy soon! So, I would have to say Italian. Thank you for writing this article, Rachel!

  • John February 5, 2015

    Hi Rachel! Great piece on reasons for learning a new language. Most of all though, I liked the comments on meeting new people, becoming more social and expanding a new type of network. Learning a language in a classroom, as you stated, has a way of sapping all the fun out of the whole process!
    That’s exactly why I started and have operate “Experience-Based” Foreign Language Classes in NYC. We incorporate wine tastings while learning french, cooking classes while learning Spanish, dining out, happy hours and a lot more “social events”
    Just like you mentioned, out in the real world, learning can be a blast. Plus, finding ways to meet new people outside of the bar scene is always a plus!

    • Rachel Brown February 6, 2015

      Oh. my. gosh. That sounds like a DREAM. I wish I lived in NYC so I could join your group. What a great idea!

  • Morgan February 5, 2015

    Norwegian for sure. Id love to be able to visit my family again someday over in Norway and actually communicate more with them. It’d also help while going on my own.

  • Brittany Bowman January 29, 2015

    I am just beginning to learn German, due to the fact that I am now living in Germany with my German boyfriend. And I must say that it is a beautiful thing to see humans interacting and communicating in a language you’ve never known! It opens up your heart to feel more since you can’t only rely on your understanding of what they’re saying (since your literally can’t understand it.) It’s also very exciting as time goes on, to realize that you actually are beginning to understand what someone is saying, or how the sentence is structured and why, or that this certain word is actually spelled this certain way and you’ve been thinking it was entirely different.
    Being surrounded by German speaking people and only knowing a little bit of the language so far has also given me a deeper appreciation for people who are fluent in two or more languages, like my boyfriend. It fascinates me that the human brain has so much capacity for intelligence! It’s a very beautiful thing.

    • Hannah February 6, 2015

      I love your insight on this, Brittany! It’s absolutely true – you learn to rely more on other ways of communicating, I think it’s fun because you see people can still bond even if you come from different cultures and languages.

  • Kiersten January 27, 2015

    I love my french classes in middle school and high school. I went all the way up to AP French because I really enjoyed it. My teacher was so kind and inspiring. I’ve been out of school for four years but I still enjoy studying French on my own. I’d love to visit France someday to practice my language skills and experience French culture.
    Kiersten | KiwiCat

  • Gemma January 27, 2015

    Learning a new language as an adult is super tricky but ridiculously rewarding. I grew up with the standard French classes, while I enjoyed them I didn’t really pay too much notice and although since growing up a bit, I always loved the idea of actually learning a language, I never thought I would actually do it. That was until I met my Dutch boyfriend.

    I now live in the Netherlands and am teaching myself the language whilst living amongst the locals, emerging myself in the culture and surroundings.

    It is quite a journey and far from easy, but with each small conversation I enjoy a mini victory in getting one step closer!!

  • Francesca January 26, 2015

    French, italian and from tomorrow, Chinese!

  • Francesca January 26, 2015

    I love learning new languages! French, italian and I am finally going to start Chinese!

  • Elizabeth January 26, 2015

    I would re-learn Spanish! I live in TX so that is a common language around here.

  • Kirsten Saharek January 23, 2015

    Japanese! I plan to visit Japan next year in the spring. #CherryBlossoms

    • Rachel Brown January 26, 2015

      Ooh, that sounds amazing! I’m currently taking French in hopes of traveling to Paris in the fall!

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