One of the most interesting aspects of learning a new language is how it can benefit your life in powerful and often unpredictable ways.
I have fond memories of the time when, fifteen years ago, I was sitting on the steps of a fountain in my home city of Rome, Italy.
On that evening, I was chatting with some friends when, somewhere behind me, a loud burp erupted from the crowd.
Surprised, I turned to see who could possibly have released such an explosive belch. As I turned, I said aloud, in English, "Wow, that's one loud burp!"
To my astonishment, the culprit was a girl of about my age. She had heard what I said, and we soon got to talking:
"What part of the US are you from?," she asked.
"Me? Oh, I'm not American. I'm Italian. I live nearby."
She was shocked. She then said she could have sworn I was American.
I continued talking with the girl and the members of her friend group well into the night.
As a result of that short exchange, I made several new English-speaking friends, one of whom I'm still good friends with to this very day.
Now, let me ask you:
If I had never learned English well, do you think I would have made friends with those American tourists?
Probably not, right?
That night, English was the key to forming friendships that would have otherwise been impossible. I've had similar experiences in other languages, as well.
The thing is, languages are everywhere, so the more of them you know, the greater the range of benefits you can gain from the places you go, the people you meet, the things you do, and the ideas you share.
Today, I want to share with you these benefits, which I call the 7 incredibly useful benefits of learning a new language.
1. Languages Help You Live Many Lives
Have you ever seen a prism?
In case you haven't, a prism is a three-sided piece of glass that creates a fascinating effect when held up to a source of white light.
For example, if you hold a prism up to sunlight, you'll notice that what comes out the other side is no longer a stream of white light. Instead, it is seven colored streams of light; one for each color of the rainbow.
The prism didn't make these colors. It just took the white light and divided it up into its component parts. Each color is a key part of the spectrum that, when mixed together, form white light.
By learning a new language, you become like the white light.
To an outside observer, you look like a single, ordinary person. However, with each language you know, you gain a new side of yourself that you can reveal to people that you share that language with.
In every language you'll have a different accent, different mannerisms, different humor, and different ways of acting and reacting that are all based on the culture of that language. In a sense, each language you speak gives you access to a different life to live.
Combined together, these aspects become a part of you just like red, green, and blue light are all parts of the sunlight you see every day. They’re always there, just hidden, waiting to be revealed by the right prism.
2. Learning a New Language Helps You Build Self-Discipline
Learning a new language is like running a marathon. You can't just decide one day to run a marathon, and immediately make it happen. The same goes for languages.
Both tasks require intensive training, usually over long periods of time. To succeed, you must learn the value of patience, of perseverance, of knowing when to speed up, and slow down.
If you find success, you will do so because you developed the discipline necessary to push beyond your comfort zone, and keep pushing, again and again.
The only marathon runners who cross the finish line are the ones who have built the resolve to never, ever give up on their goal.
If you want to truly learn a language, you'll have to do the same.
3. Languages Help You Better Understand The World
Growing up, we're told a lot of things about the world and the people in it.
American people act one way, Germans act another, French people act a third way, and then Japanese people act entirely differently from the rest.
The truth is, most of these are just stereotypes. But if you didn't know Americans, Germans, French, or Japanese people, how would you be able to separate fact from fiction?
You wouldn't, really. In that case, you'd probably just believe what you were told.
If you were a language learner, however, your experience would be very different. You'd be able to learn English, German, French, and Japanese, and be able to form your own nuanced opinions about these people and their cultures, all from within the context of their own language.
This actually happened to me, back when I lived in France.
I had been told for decades that French people were rude, snobbish, and unpleasant to foreigners, especially English speakers.
Every time I spoke English to a French person, those suspicions were confirmed. The people I spoke to were cold, and standoffish.
If I spoke French to a French person, however, my experience was wildly different. Suddenly, the French were warm, welcoming and good-humored. Speaking French, I made many French friends, and shared lots of great memories with them.
In this way, a foreign language can often act like a key; one that opens a door or pathway that would otherwise be entirely unavailable to you.
Used properly, these "keys" can unlock incredible experiences and ideas that will greatly enrich your life!
4. Languages Help You Learn More Languages
If you've only ever tried to learn one foreign language, you might think that the experience is always the same.
For example, you take a class, or pick up a course or app, and work through it. Then you pick up another resource, and another, until you feel confident enough to speak. You speak a little, but not much. The entire process takes years, and is not much fun.
The reality of learning multiple languages is actually very different, and a lot better than that, I can assure you.
While your first experience learning a new language can occasionally be slow and frustrating, every language you learn after that will generally be easier, more straightforward, and a lot more fun.
For example, I studied Spanish for 17 years before I started picking up its sister language Portuguese.
Did it take me 17 years to learn Portuguese, too?
No! It didn't even take me 17 months!
Why does this happen?
Well, when you learn a language, you are training your brain, just like you would train a muscle.
If you want big, strong muscles, you can't just lift one weight one time and be done with it. Instead, you need to lift many weights, many times, over various repetitions.
So, start with one language. Then another, and another, and another after that. Before long, you'll be an absolutely incredible language learner!
5. Languages Connect You to New and Fascinating People
In the introduction to this article, I mentioned how a passing comment in English led to friendships that have lasted me over a decade.
That isn't the only time a language has helped me make a new acquaintance, or a new friend. Not by far.
Every year, I go to language learning conferences featuring speakers and attendees who speak hundreds (if not thousands) of languages among them.
Every week, I go to social gatherings in Rome that are attended by a wide variety of tourists and expats from all over the world.
Every day, I connect with students or readers who write to me in their language (or one I know) in the hopes that I can improve their learning.
If I had remained a monolingual Italian, I might never have met any of these people. I might have missed out on friends, colleagues, and even significant others.
But, fortunately for me, I didn't stay monolingual. Just like a fisherman can catch more fish with a bigger net, learning more languages has helped me "catch" many, many friends, and those relationships have helped change my life for the better.
If you learn even one language, you can do the same. I'm sure of it!
6. Languages Can Help You Find Love
Sometimes, the friendships you make in a foreign language can evolve into something even more special: romance!
For example, years ago, I met a group of French girls while traveling abroad in Prague, Czech Republic.
I didn't know Czech at the time, but knowing French helped me strike up conversation with the girls, who were tourists, just as I was.
With time, one of the girls and I grew very close, and she eventually became my girlfriend.
Our relationship, which we maintained entirely through the French language, could have ended with that trip in Prague, but it didn't.
Instead, it led me to France, where I lived for many years, all the while dating the same girl. Through her, I got to know much about the French people, the French language, and the French way of life.
We are no longer together, but I still look back on that period of my life as an incredibly transformative one, which absolutely would not have been possible if I had never decided to learn French.
Like French did for me, the language you learn could act like Cupid's arrow, and help you find love where you least expect it.
7. Learning a New Language Can Boost Your Career Prospects
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past twenty years, you've probably noticed how the world is becoming more globalized.
Thanks to things like the Internet, the frequency of cooperation, collaboration, and communication between people from different language backgrounds is increasing at a rate never before seen in human history.
This means that if you know more than one language, you can take part in all of this increased activity, and benefit your work opportunities and career as a result.
For example, you can be like me, and use your language skills to help people from different countries improve their language skills.
Or you can be like my cousin, a scientist in Canada whose knowledge of both English and French combined has made a huge difference in his career trajectory.
In my life, I've met many, many people who fall into the latter group. Since these people know two, three, four or more languages, they are able to use those languages as "tools" to help them do more meaningful work and have a greater impact on the world, as well.
You can think of every language you learn as a "tool" in much the same way. Just like every tool in a toolbox can help you solve new problems and overcome new obstacles, every language you learn can help you do the same for your career.
If these seven benefits have shown you anything about languages, I hope it's this:
Learning a new language is never a waste of time.
It takes a lot of time, effort, and energy to learn a language, surely, but once you do, it will always be beneficial to you, and often in ways that are completely unexpected.
Even with just one foreign language under your belt, you'll be a more well-rounded and more disciplined person. You'll be able to travel to more places, meet more people, and even find more dating partners, if you wish. You'll even have broader career opportunities, if you know how to look for them. And you can do all this again and again, with as many languages as you'd like.
Languages don't just give you more than you had. They make you more than you were.
If you've been on the fence about learning a new language, try to keep that thought in mind. Focus on the fact that if you start today—if you start right now—you'll soon be well on the path to a newer, better you.