10 life-enhancing benefits of learning a language

One of the big benefits of learning a language is giving your brain a workout with genuine psychological rewards

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Work, travel, or personal enrichment are popular motivations for learning a language. Yet there’s growing interest in the associated benefits of learning a language that reach beyond linguistic aptitude.  

We’ve taken notes and gathered key insights and studies from linguists, psychologists, and other specialists that reveal the most surprising benefits of learning a language  

General Motivations for learning a new language

Study groups and surveys reveal several key motivators for language learners. A survey of British pupils pinpointed better opportunities to live and work abroad as the number one reason, backed up by similar surveys of adult language learners

You can get a flavour of how that looks in our posts about the benefits of learning French or the specific benefits of learning Spanish, which paints a picture of why individual languages are more attractive.

Underneath this leading reason for language students is a mishmash of motivations, including connecting with other cultures, boosting salaries, improving job prospects, and personal achievement.

But what is missed by many are the 10 benefits of learning a language listed below, which include hidden health boosts and at least one or two rewards that sound too good to be true.  

Learning a language can boost salaries and employability

#1 Money talks with a second language

Learning a language could be the fast track to early retirement.

It’s an attention-grabbing claim. Yet, recruiters and business gurus have long argued that bilingualism can boost salaries. Some suggest from 2% to 15%.

This suggests that one of the benefits of learning a language is that employees have more control over their career destiny. Pack a suitcase and jet off to new labour markets or aim higher at home. After all, surveys show many businesses will pay a premium for your new skill. 

A weighty European Commission includes many tasty nuggets for language learners. Among them is the telling stat that 93% of businesses strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, “Foreign language skills provide the company with added value which supports growth (6.1)”.

A weighty European Commission report includes many tasty benefits of learning a language, particularly if you want to boost your job prospects. Among them, the telling stat that 93% of businesses strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that, “Foreign language skills provide the company with added value which supports growth (6.1)”.

As globalization hits hyper speed, the need for employees who can switch languages can only grow, making it the ‘hottest job skill’, according to CNN at least. Something in the back pocket for your next salary negotiation.

If reason 1 has sold it to you already, we’ve got everything you need to start your language-learning journey today. Before you do, read on to find out some unexpected ways this can enrich your health and mental well-being.

#2 Bilingualism feeds creativity

The British Academy has worked overtime crunching metadata and reviewing claims about the benefits of learning a language. Evidence that speaking more than one language stimulates creativity stood out. 

From their hefty 87-page report titled ‘Cognitive Benefits of Language Learning: Broadening our Perspectives’ (2019):

analyses indicate strong positive correlates between creative flexibility, fluency, originality and foreign language learning.”

A 2022 Chinese study arrived at the same conclusion, noting that the mechanics are barely understood but agreeing that language flexibility promotes creative flexibility. It’s a theme running through many hidden benefits of learning a language.

Language learning fertilises the brain

#3 Language learning fertilises the brain

Learning a language reportedly makes the brain grow. That sounds like the claims of an over-enthusiastic language teacher. Yet, there is science behind the idea that cognitive function expands with language studies.

Psycholinguist Viorica Marian articulated it succinctly:

bilingual speakers process information more efficiently and more easily than those who know a single language”.

It comes down to the workout your brain gets from thinking in two (or more) languages. This was tested by observing how subjects instinctively glanced at objects that sounded similar in a different language. Then followed up with an MRI charting blood flow in the brain when performing cognitive tasks.

Research that probably confirms what many suspected: learning a language is nutritious brain food. You can now quote a professor to back up your hunch.

#4 The benefits of learning a language can influence decision making

It sounds unlikely, but multiple studies demonstrate that decisions are influenced by the ‘foreign language effect’ in multilingual speakers.

Prof Boaz Keysar (University of Chicago) has produced various peer-reviewed studies exploring the phenomenon, noting how language influences decision-making.

Is it a benefit or a hindrance? The Prof seems to think so, and his theories are backed by countless supporting studies.  

Prof Keysar also applied his theory to moral judgments. For example, bilingual speakers considered the thorny ‘trolley problem’ of whether to kill one bystander to save many.

The answers were different when asked the same question in English and Spanish. Those asked in their second language were more likely to make the utilitarian decision to save many. Adding a perplexing layer to the moral quandary while neatly illustrating how learning a language can fundamentally change your thought process.   

The benefits of learning a language is linked to improved academic performance

#5 Language learning may heighten academic performance

Evidence that a supple mind from language learning can pay off in practical ways emerges from a British Academy meta-analysis that reviewed academic performance in 20 related studies on language students, signing off with this encouraging quote: 

dual language learning is effective not only in promoting learners’ English language proficiency and literacy skills, but also brings about academic advantages in the core subjects such as mathematics, and science.”

Other studies underline the correlation between academic performance and language learning. You might not ace your exams with a second language. But just 5 reasons in, and we’re already seeing a thread of studies knitted into a tapestry of positives for the mind.

Learning a language can improve concentration and focus

#6 Max your attention span with language learning

Still reading?

If your attention is flagging, another of the benefits of learning a language could hold the key bolstering your attention span.

The study that caught our eye measured a “significant improvement in attention switching” amongst Scottish Gaelic learners. Probably not the best language to start with if you’re worried about your attention span, so we’re not sure how reliable the results are.

Happily, the findings are backed up by another British study that determined:

 “the bilingual brain is better at maintaining focus, due to its experience in regularly having to switch between languages”.

Which chimes with nearly every qualified voice in the field that have researched the cerebral benefits of learning a language.

#7 Second languages augment emotional intelligence

Developing emotional intelligence through empathy is emerging as another of the once-hidden benefits of learning a language.

You might not have needed a PhD to believe that. After all, acquainting yourself with languages (and usually cultures) of other nationalities feeds an understanding of the unfamiliar and an appreciation for alternative perspectives.

However, experts with letters after their names have produced persuasive evidence that language proficiency and emotional intelligence correlate, expanding old and new studies into the impact of bilingualism on how we personal communication skills.

Perhaps the most interesting point they make is that learning a language boosts empathy, leading to better communication when conversing with native language speakers. A virtuous communication circle where new languages complement your mother tongue.

Learning a language feeds many mind benefits

#8 Language learning improves memory function

It’s perhaps no surprise that uploading a new vocabulary into the internal hard drive affects memory function. As with the other benefits of learning a language, we can refer to several studies showing this improves memory function.

Even more interesting for those starting to shimmy up the language learning tree, several studies reveal that fluency is not a key factor. Merely earning a language affects brain wiring, better known by its more evocative scientific name, neuroplasticity.

A quick search unearths adjacent studies revealing the function of memory in language learning and students reporting improved memory function. There is plenty more research with similar conclusions, as many linguists agree a memory upgrade is potentially one of the most exciting and practical benefits of learning a language.

#9 Bilingualism and delayed cognitive decline

Evidence is also slowly stacking that the cognitive benefits of learning a language also help delay cognitive decline, notably in Alzheimer’s patients.

A 2013 study of dementia onset in 648 patients included 391 bilingual volunteers and concluded:

bilingual patients developed dementia 4.5 years later than the monolingual ones.”

At the time, it was the most complete study of its kind. Further evidence has since emerged about these inspiring benefits of learning a language.

Once again, the theory is that switching between languages strengthens neural connections, slowing declining cognitive function. Watch this space; there will surely be more vital research in this potentially groundbreaking discovery.

#10 Spice up your sex appeal by learning a language

Did we save one of the most compelling benefits of learning a language for last? Perhaps. But we’re pretty sceptical about this one.

Backing up centuries of anecdotal evidence, a recent survey claims that participants overwhelmingly find multilinguists more attractive.

Too good to be true? Who knows. But practising French, the language of amour, probably won’t harm your romantic endeavours.

There are as many reasons for learning a language as the dialects in the world

690 additional reasons to study a language

We’ve not forgotten that for most, learning a language is all about travel, work, and family connections. For some, it might be about studying abroad (you can do that for free in some EU countries) or taking on fresh challenges.

But as you can see, giving up a little time to study a new language works wonders for the brain and, potentially, your bank balance.

If you need more inspiration, the UK Subject Centre for Languages leaves no linguistic stone unturned in producing 700 reasons. Whether the other 690 reasons can top these 10 benefits of learning a language is up for debate.  

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