5 Reasons to learn a new language

by Anita Naik

Learning a language opens up new frontiers. It lets you access new opportunities and vastly improves your experience when looking for a job in the global market. So, whether you need an extra language for work or want to brush up on your language skills for GCSE or A-levels, here's what you need to know.

In recent years there has been a shift away from modern languages. The most telling exam figures are those for GCSEs. Around three-quarters of pupils studied a language other than English as part of their GCSEs twenty years ago. Once the government stopped making languages compulsory at GCSE, participation declined to just 47 per cent and fell to just 15 per cent in some UK schools.

It will give you increased cognitive benefits

A study from UCL found that people who speak more than one language have improved memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration, better multitasking ability, and enhanced listening skills.

This is down to the fact that the language centres in the brain are flexible, so learning a second language can help develop new areas of your mind and strengthen your brain's natural ability to focus.

Becoming bilingual has even more significant benefits. A study by Dr Thomas Bak — a lecturer at Edinburgh's School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences — shows that young adults proficient in two languages performed better on attention tests and had better concentration than those who spoke only one language. The most substantial effects were seen in intelligence and reading.

It can improve your overall academic performance

Around 90% of studies looking at the effect of learning a language has on achievement in other subjects show a positive impact across the curriculum. Much of this is down to how you learn a new language. Skills needed include mental flexibility, memorisation techniques, concentration, and the ability to listen and expand your learning outside of lessons. It's one reason why students who study languages tend to score better on standardised tests.

It will improve your native language skills

Learning a new language can help give you a better perspective on your own language. Much of this is down to how language learning pushes your brain to understand new grammar and vocabulary rules and trains your memory to make connections and remember vocabulary. Learning the rules of another language then helps you to understand how you use English. In turn, this can help with writing, analysis and vocabulary in other subjects you are studying.

It gives you significant career benefits

Aside from opening up opportunities to work in other countries and with global businesses, a second language has multiple career benefits. The experts at BRIC Language Systems say speaking a foreign language can increase a typical wage between 10 and 15 per cent. And according to the British Chamber of Commerce, 60% of corporations who want to do business abroad don't do so because they don't have enough multilingual employees. Therefore, being able to speak a foreign language automatically makes you an attractive proposition.

It improves your studying and revision methods overall

Studying a new language also teaches you how to review and revise a subject continuously. Not only does it incorporate a range of study skills such as flashcards, quizzes, memory methods, but it also encourages more expansive learning outside of the classroom. Learning a new language also means your brain has to cope with complexity as it makes sense of and absorbs new patterns. This boosts critical thinking and analytical skills as well as recall. All skills that are needed in a wide variety of other GCSE and A-level subjects.

For a tutor in any language, see First Tutors Languages. For further reading, see our posts on How to pass GCSE FrencH, Learning a new language and How to revise for a language GCSE.