Studies from the USA show that less than one fifth of American’s speak a second language. In the UK, the figure is a little higher, with 38% of people speaking a second language, but this is the worst figure in the EU where 56% of people, on average, speak a foreign language.
Advances in technology makes learning a new language easier and more accessible than ever before but why should you learn another language? I’ve teamed up with Allianz care to discuss the benefits of learning a new language and provide some practical tips.
What are the benefits of learning another language?
The advantages of having a second language are more than just having an ability to communicate with people from another country, although that is very beneficial of itself. There are many cognitive benefits of learning a new language:
Improves ability to concentrate
Learning a language through immersion i.e. living in a country where that language is spoken, has been shown to improve mental alertness and awareness.
Research has shown that those who learn a second language have more empathy with those from other cultures. This is particularly significant if you are learning a language in order to move to another country.
Multiple studies have shown that learning a second or third language also helps your memory. It has been shown to improve memory recall, names etc. however most significantly it can also stave off the effects of age-related dementia.
What languages should I learn?
Spanish is spoken by 400 million people around the world and it is the first language of 20 countries, making it an incredibly useful language to have for travel and business.
Spoken by over a billion people, primarily in mainland China, Mandarin is the most common language in the world. Since it opened up to foreign trade and investment, China has become the world’s fastest growing economy. As such, if you want to learn a language that may further your career, this might be the one to consider.
French is spoken by over 220 million people. It is an official language of France, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and parts of Africa. Its use as one of the three working languages of the EU means it is a great language to have.
Arabic is spoken by about 300 million native speakers. It is the first language of about 20 countries that have developing economies making this a useful option from a career perspective.
Similar to French, German is another of the working languages of the EU but it is also spoken in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium.
The language you learn may also be influenced by a planned move abroad. If you are considering moving abroad as a digital nomad or to take up an expat role for your existing company, it is useful to have at least some of the local language.
How can technology help you learn a language?
Smart phones have revolutionised how we learn languages. At the touch of a button we now have access to apps, videos and native speakers to allow us to learn almost any language in the world at a time and place that suits us.
The most common way to learn a language using technology is by using a language app. Many well-known self-study language providers like Rosetta Stone and Linguaphone have evolved into software companies offering apps as a way to learn a new language. Other popular apps include:
- Duolingo: which allows you to progress at your own pace.
- Memrise: uses native speakers to teach you a new language, it begins with the very basics.
- Busuu: this is one of the most popular language learning apps, it has over 80 million subscribers. What attracts many people to it is the level of interactivity it provides. You can test your current skills, so you start learning at the right level. It provides full courses, reviews of exercises completed and accent training.
Most language apps work on a freemium model. You can access the basics for free, but you will have to pay for the more advanced features.
If you are an international student or want to test out learning a language before your commit to a paid app than video sharing sites like YouTube or Vimeo may be a useful place to start. There are many videos created by native speakers that are free to access and will allow you to learn the basics. The disadvantage of using video to learn a language is that you cannot tailor your learning experience easily.
AI Language Teachers
Although still in its infancy, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is likely to have a significant impact on language education. The Khan Academy have already pioneered an AI tutor for a mathematics course, so it may be only a matter of time before AI is used for other forms of learning.
Learning a language is just one of the things you need to consider when moving abroad. Don’t forget your physical health and wellbeing too with an international health insurance policy that will enable you to access the healthcare when and where you need it.