Learning a second language makes us think differently.
People who speak more than one language have been proven to live longer and have a wider world view than those who don’t. Nowadays, multilingualism is commonplace across Europe and the non-anglophone world because English is more and more becoming the universal language. But here in Britain that’s just not the case, the 2011 census showed just 7.7% of the population England and Wales spoke a second language at home. Not surprising given the fall in tolerance of outsiders and the feeling of a lack of need for multiculturalism in the U.K. today. This is reflected in the education curriculum, as a comparison, Finnish kids are taught a second language from the age of 4 or 5 and then a third at the age of 12 (in most cases) which means that by the time that they’re adults, Fins can speak at least three languages fluently.
Compared to the lackluster GCSE Languages program which I’m sure most of you followed, the fact that these children are able to discuss complex political issues in their third language at the age of 15 must come as a shock. Why aren’t we teaching kids these essential life skills? Put simply, it’s because we, as a nation, are lazy. We expect people to cater to our anglophone tendencies when visiting, or living in the U.K. and yet on our own jolts abroad we’re barely able to stutter out “où est le supermarché?” without sounding painfully foreign. I’d go as far to say that our lack of multilingualism is contributing to the rise of mistrust of foreigners, here in the U.K. One particular case of this lingual xenophobia happened on a bus in Wales, where a woman was speaking in her native tongue to her children. Another passenger decided to tell her that “when you’re in the U.K. you really should be speaking English” to which she replied “I’m in Wales and I’m speaking Welsh”.
It’s been proven that people have different personalities in different languages.
Experts have shown that speaking another language improves our cultural tolerance; people who speak more than one language are more open-minded. Experts suggest that not only does it make you more open-minded, but speaking another language allows you to express different aspects of your personality. It’s been proven that people have different personalities in different languages. Speaking another language allows you to reinvent yourself and immerse yourself in the world around you.
The cultural benefits are obvious but speaking more than one language is also good for your health. Studies have shown that people who speak a second language are almost half as likely to suffer from any form dementia (including Alzheimer’s) and are likely to live longer as a result. This is because learning a new language, or using a second language, forces your brain to create new connections and to refresh connections already made. In other words, much like maths or music, language is a work-out for your brain.
What’s more, it’s not even like we’ve got the excuse of not being in school anymore. There are millions of free learning materials available online and hundreds of free language learning apps like Duolingo and Memrise. So really, there’s no excuse, what are you waiting for? Get started and learn more about the people living in the world around you.
Ellie Williams, 10th December 2018, 11:04am