The 26th September is European Day of Languages and as the BBC website says, it is an opportunity to celebrate the 6,000+ languages spoken around the world and promote language learning.
But why should we bother learning other languages?
The health benefits of learning another language
Learning a language has some very specific health benefits. Most specifically, it can help the mature brain to ward off dementia and the slow cognitive decline. For some time scientists thought that the brain could not be repaired, but this thinking has changed. Dr. Thomas Bak, a lecturer in the philosophy, psychology, and language sciences department at the University of Edinburgh, conducted a study and found that this was false; a person’s level of education and intelligence mattered less than learning a second language when it came to delaying cognitive decline.
And, language schools, claim that learning a language when you’re older brings other advantages: your vocabulary in your native language is more developed and your grasp of grammar is stronger than when you first attempted to learn French, German or Spanish at school. According to Albert Costa, a professor of neuroscience who studies bilingualism at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, “Picking up a new language’s vocabulary is much easier for adults than learning the rules that govern its grammar or syntax. This is because new words can be easily mapped on to a learner’s pre-existing knowledge.“
It makes travel more pleasurable
In addition to giving your brain a helpful workout, being able to communicate in another language opens up other cultures to you in a way that allows you to experience their differences in much more depth. This is particularly true if you are retiring in another country. For example, if you plan to retire in Spain, it really pays to grasp the language, not just so that you can more confidently deal with your bank or utilities providers, but also because it will enable you to makes friends with locals and understand the new community you are now a part of.
From my personal experience of learning Spanish, I offer the following advice; don’t aim for perfection when you start speaking another language because it will stop you from really immersing yourself in the language. Be prepared to make mistakes, listen to the locals, ask lots of questions along the lines of “How do you say…” or “What is the name for…” and you’ll make more progress.
Language is a wonderful gift and the opportunity and ability to speak to another person in their native language is an even greater one.