Learning a second language can be hugely beneficial in both your personal and professional life. It can improve your employability (or your chances at the next juicy promotion), and it may even have a positive effect on your health and wellbeing.
‘Neuroplasticity’ (where your brain develops new neural connections through experience) is not limited to childhood development – in fact, your brain is always changing, and this is great news for language learners of any age. As your language skills develop, these changes enable your brain to work differently to your monolingual peers. By regularly using two or more languages, adult language learners can experience the cognitive benefits of these changes.
This post explores the many personal benefits of language learning, and considers how these benefits can enhance your performance at work.
Back in the day, the dominant view was that learning a second language from childhood conferred more confusion than advantage to children because they were grappling with two conflicting sets of information – therefore, they ran the risk of being the master of neither. However, this view has now reversed, and many researchers now agree that mastering two or more languages is ultimately a huge asset with many significant benefits.
As a key example, balancing two or more languages (and negotiating your way through their similarities and differences) may also make you a miracle multitasker. Research shows that bilingual people can sift through information more quickly and effectively than monolingual people to find the essential details they need, and that they are also better at balancing multiple projects and prioritising key tasks.
It goes without saying that these are desirable qualities in a fast-paced business environment!
Solve problems and make effective decisions
Ever had that feeling where you simply cannot decide between two courses of action? Sometimes making a decision – whether it is as simple as what to have for lunch or as tricky as deciding on the best response in a fraught business negotiation – can seem impossible. Fortunately, another great benefit of bilingualism is that your decision-making skills may improve.
Researchers at the University of Chicago have shown that thinking over the decision in your second language enables you to make more rational decisions – an invaluable gift in the workplace.
Perceive key details and focus your attention
Your attentiveness and perceptiveness may also be impacted by your bilingual brain. Studies have shown that bilingual brains have increased grey matter in the areas that handle ‘executive control’ functions – that is, the areas involved with attention, inhibition and short-term memory. So, when you are next reviewing a complicated contract that might contain some disastrous mis-steps for you and your organisation, your bilingual brain may help you to wade through the standard contractual jargon and pick out the calamitous clauses before you sign on the dotted line.
Speaking of attention, being bilingual may offer some additional benefits in this modern world of digital distractions such as emails and social media. Bilingual people are thought to be adept at focusing their attention, which is probably the result of their ability to switch from one language to the other as required (and in turn, the ability to ‘switch off’ the other language as they focus their attention).
The study showed that bilingual students could contend with distracting environments more effectively than monolingual students. Further research is underway, but the results reveal promising signs that bilingualism could help you stay focused and productive in the workplace (as well as easily filter out Facebook and tune out Twitter…).
Memorise more than just your shopping list
Learning a new language requires you to master another language’s worth of words and grammar rules, effectively doubling the work that your brain is doing in this area of activity. As a result, your brain gets lots of exercise and builds up some significant memory muscle! As your new vocabulary improves and you are more quickly able to string new sentences together in your chosen language, your memory will be getting an excellent workout.
Use your improved memory to find that oh-so-important document in a hurry, confirm a price for a client in a split second, or remember exactly who it is in accounts that maintains that crucial database – your reputation for reliability and knowledgeability is about to go through the roof!
Boost your health
It is a horrible thought, but cognitive illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are of increasing concern in an ageing population. It is therefore comforting to think that learning a second language can ward off these heart-breaking health conditions. A large study published in Neurology in 2013 demonstrated that regularly using a second language delayed the onset of dementia by over four years.
Keeping your brain active and challenged throughout your life is regarded as essential to keeping dementia at bay, so learning a second language could be a good alternative to brainteasers, crosswords and puzzles – and it is a skill that can benefit you both at work and in your personal life (and if you can order coffee and have a fluent conversation with the barista while you are on holiday overseas, your kids will be impressed – perhaps even inspired, too!).
It would be a leap to say that learning a second language makes you smarter – in fact, it is more accurate to say that bilingualism improves your ability to complete certain tasks with ease and to assess information more effectively. But learning a second language can definitely enhance a range of business-oriented skills that will serve you well (including many of those discussed in this article).
Furthermore, the ability to understand and work in a second language provides your organisation with an undeniable advantage – one that enables your business to access new client bases around the world and make deals across the language barrier.
Discover how the people in your organisation can benefit both personally and professionally from learning a new language at work by contacting us</acting us at Simon & Simon today. We will work with you to assess your business’s language requirements so that you and the people in your organisation can experience the many benefits of language learning.