There are so many benefits to learning a second language… and I’ve come up with 17!
I know these benefits of learning a second language from my own experience learning languages. Plus I’ve seen them in action watching others learn languages in communities like the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge. I’m a native English speaker. I also speak Japanese, Spanish and Korean in varying degrees.
Many of the benefits are also backed up by scientific research, and I’ve linked to this research where that’s available.
Wouldn’t it be nice to improve your memory, boost your physical and mental health, and make more money? You absolutely can, and it doesn’t take a magic potion or luck. All it takes is learning a second language!
Do the Benefits of Learning a Second Language Really Matter?
Yes! There are so many benefits to bilingualism. And they matter a lot!
Here at Fi3M we hear from so many language learners who tell us “I struggle to stay motivated in my language learning.” It’s a really common situation. You want to learn a language, but you can’t stick with it.
Knowing the real, scientifically-backed benefits to learning a second language gives you the push you need when your motivation starts to drop.
So with that in mind, here are 17 concrete advantages of learning a new language, many of them backed by science.
By learning a second language, you will:
1. Develop Empathy and Compassion
Language is deeply tied to culture. So when you start learning a new language, it changes the way you view things.
Speaking a second language, you begin to understand new views and perspectives on the world. In fact, language learning increases your compassion and empathy for others.
My own experience backs this up, as learning another language has made me a better listener. As a new language learner, you have to train yourself to focus and pick out words you know. So you pay more attention and learn to interrupt less. Another benefit of bilingualism!
2. Make New Friends
Learning a new language opens up the doors to millions of potential new friends and relationships. Some of my good friends I’ve met because I learned Japanese, and I would never have met them if I hadn’t!
3. Connect with Your Heritage
If you have heritage in a language, learning that language helps you reconnect with your family or family history. Maybe your family is Hispanic, and your grandmother only speaks Spanish. By learning the language, you could have a deeper conversation with her and hear her stories. That’s a life-changing gift and a priceless memory.
4. Unlock a New Sense of Adventure
In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert shares how she was drawn to learning Italian for no particular reason at all. It intrigued her, so she went to Italy and learned it.
If you’re learning a language, you have some interest in the country or culture that speaks it. And it emboldens you to take a leap of faith. You can order food in Korean at your local Korean restaurant. Or go to a local language meetup. Or to travel abroad finally, and have a deeper experience in the country.
5. Grow Your Brain (Yes, it Will Be Physically Bigger)
The connection between the brain and language learning is fascinating. One crazy fact? Your brain will actually grow when you learn a second language. Swedish scientists discovered when people studied languages, their brains increased in mass.
During the study, the control group learned something new that wasn’t a language. And there wasn’t the same growing effect on their brain!
6. Rewire Your Brain
In the same study, the scientists discovered it was possible to rewire the brain. They trained participants to understand tonal differences between languages in as little as one hour.
The study also found that language immersion provided better memory retention. So the more they were exposed to the language, the better they remembered it.
Your brain trains itself through language learning to process and understand new information. So, those new “wires” in your rewired brain help you process all information better and faster.
7. Reduce Decision Fatigue
Do you have a hard time making decisions? Try making the decision in your target language. One study found that people were less likely to overthink when asked to make a decision in a foreign language. The theory is that because of the distance between the foreign language and your native tongue, the brain doesn’t overthink the situation.
8. Improve Focus and Attention
Learning a second language helps you block out distractions, and hone your focus on the task at hand.
As you learn to switch between languages, your ability to focus while switching between tasks improves. And you can process and refocus faster because your brain is used to processing new information.
9. Reduce Risk for Dementia and Alzheimer’s
There are many health benefits to learning a second language, and this is a big one. Language learning keeps your brain active, engaged, and growing. It gives you a boost in mental stimulation. Because of that, language learning has been proven to delay or reduce the risk of memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. The brain creates more neural pathways while learning, keeping it strong.
10. Get Better at Learning ALL Languages
Studies have found that if you’ve learned one language, your next language will be even easier to learn. And, your native language also improves. You develop the skills necessary to learn and understand how you learn best. And you start to have a deeper understanding of linguistics and grammar, which continues to help you as you learn new languages and speak your own.
11. Become a Math Whiz or Science Genius (Maybe!)
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. But if you struggle with math and science, language learning can help.
When you learn a language you become used to sorting and processing new information in your target language. So, you develop better math skills.
Plus, there’s a correlation between bilingual students and their ability to come up with complex scientific hypotheses.
12. Get a Creativity Boost
One of the benefits of learning a foreign language is you learn to think creatively to get your point across. That’s especially true if you still have limited vocabulary in your new language. That, as well as the change in perceptions from understanding a new culture, impact your creative output. You start to look at and put things together in new ways which spark new creative juices.
13. Learn Faster and Remember Longer
Some studies found that language learning improves your working memory. This means those who were bilingual could process, sort, and store new information with better memory retention.
This is also one of the advantages of learning different languages, ones that are not like your native tongue. You’re able to process something very opposite what you’re used to and put the puzzle pieces together. For instance, if you’re learning Japanese and your native is English, you’re piecing together a different writing system and grammar structure.
14. Land the Job
There are financial benefits of knowing more than one language. If you live in the US, you probably have an idea of how few people speak more than one language. Only about 20% of US Americans can speak two languages fluently. I
f judging by the ability to hold a simple conversation, the figure is around 26%. That’s… not a lot. We in the US are way behind the world average of 50%.
That means if you can speak a foreign language, and you add that to your resume? You’ll stand out. Especially if the company you’re applying for has ties to that language. Like, for instance, applying to Toyota and speaking Japanese.
It also shows that you’re self-motivated and a willing learner — both valuable traits for employers.
15. Increase Your Annual Salary (Maybe!)
This also depends on your job and where you want to go with it. If you decide to take on a new career or side hustle as a translator, you would be in high demand. Interpretation and translation jobs are expected to grow by 19% by 2028, which is much faster than the average occupation. If you want to work for a federal agency, they usually give preference to those who speak more than one language.
In fact, many government agencies offer a $1,000 – $2,000 annual pay increase for speaking multiple languages. And we know of one guy who got a $7,000 raise after he learned Spanish.
The language you decide to learn matters, too. It may not be a surprise that the search for Mandarin speakers has increased. But did you know German is one of the most valuable languages you could learn? Germany has one of the top economies in the world, making it a sought-after language in employees.
So if money is a motivating factor for you, this could be one of the major advantages of studying a foreign language.
16. Improve Your Confidence
There are benefits to learning multiple languages, too. The more languages you learn to speak, the more your confidence builds from putting yourself out there. Besides that, it can open up new opportunities you may never have dreamed of.
17. Develop a More Positive Mindset
I’ll end this list with my favorite advantage of bilingualism. It takes effort to learn a second language, but it helps you have a more positive outlook and mindset.
For one, when you overcome your fear of speaking from day one and have that first conversation? You develop a more positive mindset that you can do this. Like developing a sense of adventure, you start to believe more in your own capabilities.
But learning new words and ways to express yourself can also make you happier. You learn untranslatable words that capture something you could never describe before.
Why Learn a Second Language? Because It’s Life-Changing
If you can’t tell by these 17 reasons, learning a language could change your life. It could lead to new friends, new happiness, new locations, or new careers. The possibilities are endless — it’s only limited by your own creativity and determination.
So go forth, and reap the benefits of learning another language!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.