Ever stared out of the window and started to daydream about your next adventure? Yeah, I thought so. Me too. If you’ve ever thought about making big changes in your life, chances are, living abroad is high on the list. Travel is a fantastic thing, with a host of benefits. The question is, how are you going to pay for it long-term? After all, travelling for a while would be great, but what if you could make living abroad a reality for a longer period of time?
That would be very cool. It could also supercharge your career prospects and open you up to loads of different opportunities. There are lots of different things you can do to prepare for a move abroad, but learning a language is often at the bottom of the list.
Why We No Speak Italiano
As a native English speaker, it would seem that the world is your oyster. English is the third most common language on the planet. Yay for us! Although more people speak Mandarin and Spanish as their native tongue, English covers more people in total. When you include people speaking English as a foreign language, it’s estimated that 1.5 billion people speak English. That’s more than 20% of all human beings on Earth.
English is spoken on every continent and has become the de facto choice for people of different countries to communicate when they don’t know each other’s language. So you could easily imagine that having a native grasp of the planet’s most popular language would give you the ability to travel almost anywhere.
And you’d be right. To an extent at least. But you’d also be missing the point.
Benefits of Language Learning
It’s widely known that native English speakers are some of the worst at speaking foreign languages. Given the statistics above, it’s easy to see why. If 20% of people globally speak the same language as you, you’re at a distinct advantage when it comes to travel. But there are a whole heap of benefits to language learning.
Becoming bilingual is a complex process. It opens many new neural pathways in your brain and this makes you more intelligent. Because different languages have different systems for communicating the same thoughts, concepts and feelings, you become better at dealing with problem solving, and other systematic tasks. The more actively you use two or more languages, the more pronounced this benefit becomes.
Another fantastic benefit of these changes in your brain is that you fend off the development of Alzheimer’s. Studies have repeatedly shown that patients who speak multiple languages developed the disease several years later than monolingual ones.
Often seen as related, is an improvement in memory functionality. Again, studies have been done. The results consistently show that bilinguals are better at remembering lists and other memory related tasks.
As well as become a proficient speaker of a foreign language, engaging in learning one can also bring benefits. You become more perceptive by training your brain to analyse more information as you acquire it. Decision making also improves, as thinking in two or more languages leads to more systematic and lateral thinking, and less time second-guessing yourself.
What Really Matters
After all that, there’s clearly a great case for learning a second language. So why don’t more people do it?
It turns out that being able to communicate with 20% of the planet, makes a pretty compelling case for not learning a second language. So why bother? Well, aside from all the cognitive benefits, learning a language can actually be a fantastic tool for career advancement. And that career change can offer you the opportunity to travel the world and live abroad with ease.
So if you have dreams of living abroad, having adventures and travelling, gaining a second language is the best way to open up a literal world of opportunities. And isn’t that what really matters?
A Tale of Two Motivations
There are many different ways to learn a language but experts have shown that there are only two primary motivations to do so. So far, we’ve just been talking about instrumental motivation. This means that learning a language is not the main goal itself, but instead a tool to achieve another end.
This has often been cited as the reason that native English speakers are the weakest language learners worldwide. A typical example of instrumental motivation is when you study a language at school. The goal is simply to achieve an academic qualification, not necessarily have a conversation with a person from your target nation. Remember French class? No, neither do I!
If you only have instrumental motivation to learn, making progress will be a lot harder and take longer. So what about the other type?
Integrative motivation is when you learn because you want to integrate with your target culture in some way. One of the most common forms of this occurs with cross-cultural romance. But don’t worry, you don’t have to dive straight into one of those. The way to harness the power of integrative motivation is really quite easy.
Just Have Fun
When I first started, the main reason for learning a language was to make new friends, and have a more interesting and fun experience. Language isn’t just about communication. It helps you to understand food, culture and local idioms.
Not only that, but you start to develop a different personality when speaking and thinking in another language. Spanish is soft and sensual, Italian is passionate and uses a lot of hand gestures. Each language imbues you with a new sense of personal expression. You’ll quickly find new ways to say the same things and that will influence how you feel in the most exciting ways.
The more fun you have with learning, the easier it becomes and the faster you progress. Of course, along the way your language skills are also the key to unlocking a new life overseas, or a plethora of options at home.
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