As many as 75% of Americans and 62% of Britons don’t speak a second language. You can argue that they don’t really need to, everything is English these days, including this blog post. You can live a good life without knowing a second language.
But speaking from experience here, learning a second language can broaden your horizons like few other things in life can, and especially when that second language is English.
Why Learn a Second Language
Learning a second language isn’t only a social and business skill or a mind-sharpening exercise. It’s also an act of creating a broader, more informed, more aware version of you.
English has the richest vocabulary of all languages, having assimilated so many words from so many cultures over the centuries. And yet, there are words for which there is no direct English translation.
For example, the German Schadenfreude, which means…
the feeling of pleasure derived by seeing another’s misfortune.
Or the Spanish duende, which refers to…
the feeling of awe and inspiration and overwhelming beauty that you can experience when you stand in nature.
Or the French flâner, a Baudelairian word that describes…
an observer who wanders about the city taking in the sights and sounds, noticing the fluid changes in culture, but without critiquing them.
Learning a second language is good for the brain and has some other benefits:
- Improves memory
- May reduce dementia risk
- Consolidates your knowledge of your first language
- Improves communication skills
- Looks good in your CV (if you care for that sort of thing)
How to Learn a Second Language
I learned some English at school but not enough. I can’t say I had any particular interest in it at school, maybe because of the way it was taught—grammar first, everything else after.
By the time I was done with school, I didn’t know the difference between “which” and “witch”. I was better at French.
I made better progress when I made up my mind to learn it myself.
The easiest way to learn a second language is not to try too hard to learn it. Not to start with grammar and lousy textbooks. Rather, to immerse yourself in it. To hear it spoken and see it the page.
To listen to audiobooks and the radio and music and to read books in that language. To talk with other speakers of that language, too.
Now we also have fun language-learning apps like Duolingo that make everything easier. I’m not paid to promote this app–I just like it and use it almost every day.
To sum things up, the easier way to learn a second language is to make it an everyday habit.
Forget about expensive courses and language learning materials.
A New Word Every Day
Maybe you want to learn English or French or Spanish or Italian or Chinese or Japanese. Whatever language it is, make room for it in your life. Practice it for at least a few minutes every day.
You’re not learning only a language or only making your CV more desirable for potential employers.
You’re entering a process of creating a broader version of yourself, of understanding the world better.
Language is one of the reasons why our species has spread so far and wide. It’s what enables cooperation at a scale not otherwise seen in the animal kingdom.
You may not end up using your second language often or speaking it with others all that much. But the act of learning it will expose you to new ideas and help your brain make connections that weren’t there before.
You’ll become a better version of yourself.