After videos of Bella Devyatkina, a then four-year-old Russian linguistic prodigy, surfaced all over the internet, I’ve been wholly inspired to challenge myself by learning multiple foreign languages. After all, if a child can learn the basics of French, German, Arabic, English, Spanish, and Chinese — on top of her native tongue — at the age of four, who am I as a Malaysian trilingual to only speak the languages used in my country?
Realistically, this is a mean feat. Especially when most of us are flooded with work and can hardly find the time to treat ourselves, let alone engage in fun hobbies like learning a new lingo. However, learning foreign languages isn’t merely a fun little hobby, it’s importance in today’s world far surpasses what most people think.
Apart from being the annoying, self-proclaimed ‘cultured’ friend, or reading the labels on the back of imported products, here are six other reasons why you should pick up another language or two.
Protects you in foreign places
We all know that naive tourists are usually targeted by scammers and the like. Even if you’re a seasoned traveller, and not new to the hustle and bustle of street markets or high-traffic touristy areas, just looking or sounding like one can be a huge disadvantage. While you needn’t have a thorough understanding of the language used in your holiday destination, just a few common phrases will suffice.
It might seem unnecessary, but trust us when we say being able to blend in with your surroundings in terms of language and appearance can make a world of difference. It may be the difference between getting approached by 10 potential scammers or none. On top of that, it’s a way to win local hearts over, and earn their respect. They’ll certainly appreciate the effort, so don’t worry about not sounding authentic; they’ll understand.
Opens up career opportunities
With the current rate of globalisation, multilingual job candidates are in high demand. More and more employers all over the globe are looking for these rare candidates. Languages are the backbone of communication, and often, companies even send their staff to foreign language lessons when dealing cross-border. A plus point? On top of the possibility of a bigger pay check, you’ll have a means of earning a little extra side income as an interpreter, translator, or writer. Translation has even become the fastest growing career in the United States of America.
Lowers the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and more
Some of us may have personally experienced the toll ageing can take on loved ones. Physically, they might seem 20 years younger than their actual age, but sadly, the simple fact of remembering their way home can prove impossible (and dangerous). While many tend to hold the misconception that this cognitive decline is inevitable, there are actually ways to slow down the process.
Keeping mentally stimulated throughout our lives, especially as we approach old age, is one of the proven ways to reduce the risk of cognitive impairments associated with ageing. On top of learning a new language, this can be done by reading books, doing puzzles like crosswords, and playing board games. Studies even prove that bilingual patients develop dementia more than four years years later than monolingual ones.
Expands your worldview
Perhaps the most overlooked benefit of learning foreign languages is how much your view will change. Your view on different countries, different cultures, and different people. I believe I speak for most when I say that too often, we’re separated by not only physical borders, but also borders of the mind.
You don’t have to learn all the languages of the world. However, with each language you learn, the more exposed you are to that particular lifestyle and culture, and the more you can relate with the country and its people. Gaining a more profound understanding of different cultures will ultimately enrich you as a traveller and enable you to make the most out of your trips.
Helps you save money
Take Petaling Street for example. Situated in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this infamous tourist destination is a treasure trove of cheap (and mostly counterfeit) products among other things. Unbeknown to you, the prices you just haggled for as a foreigner are probably a 200 per cent mark-up of its usual price.
As much as we hate to admit it, for most stall owners, speaking English equates to rich. Now, we all know that may not be the case, but these stereotypes are all too real. If we can’t change this mindset, the next best thing we can do is work around it by appearing familiar with the prices.
A new country means new experiences, so do your homework beforehand by learning at least a few common haggling phrases in the native language. Even if that doesn’t quite work out, fret not. We tend to spend more money when travelling, and that’s totally okay. After all, it’s a holiday!