Bilingual benefits

Why you should learn a second language (and why it's not too late)

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You might think the window has passed for you to learn a second language, but that’s not exactly true. There are many free and efficient ways to learn another language and reap the benefits of bilingualism.

Bilingualism has obvious benefits like easier international travel, job market advantages and being able to communicate with an entire population of people with whom you couldn’t before.

But more than that, studies have shown that there are positive cognitive and social effects that come from learning a second language.

A study published by Cambridge University Press found that English speakers who were also fluent in Japanese — which has more lexical terms for shades of blue — distinguished between blue hues differently than those who knew only English.

So, in this case, learning another language changed the way bilingual people saw and categorized the world around them.

Bilingual children have greater memory function.

While there are many different factors, such as implicit bias and socioeconomic variables, that affect the validity of many studies, recent research has tried to account for these discrepancies and confirm some long-held beliefs about bilingualism.

In 2013, a study found that bilingual children have greater memory function. Combine that with another study that found bilingual people also have an easier time task-switching and multitasking, and it seems like the cognitive effects of bilingualism are impossible to ignore.

Another study found that bilingual children better grasp the concept of perspective at an early age, which means they benefit from better-developed interpersonal communication skills.

While many studies focus on benefits for bilingual children, don’t let that deter you from starting your journey to bilingualism as an adult. Evidence suggests advantages are present at any age.

A study published in 2014 found even when a second language is acquired in adulthood, there is a link between bilingualism and slower brain decline due to aging.

Fluency: The ability to easily express oneself in her or his non-native language.

If there’s any good reason to learn another language, it’s to slow the effects of aging on the brain. Another study even found that the effects of Alzheimer’s appeared up to 6 years later in bilingual adults when compared to monolinguals.

Many adults become discouraged at the thought of speaking with the ease of a language’s native speaker. While it may be daunting, language learners need to remember that the goal of bilingualism isn’t to reach the same linguistic level as native speakers, it’s to become fluent.

Fluency is the ability to easily express oneself in her or his non-native language by either speaking or writing.

If you’re worried you won’t get much use out of a second language in your daily life, turn to the internet to find a pen pal or an online community in another country. Even listening to music or podcasts in your second language can help keep it fresh on your mind.

While it may be harder for adults to become fluent in a language due to time constraints, memory loss, and other problems that come with adulthood, it’s not at all impossible.

With the abundance of free resources available, you can even learn for free.

If you are interested in learning a second language a great place to start is your local library where they have free print and online resources to help you get started. Many public libraries, including the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, offer access to Mango, an online program that offers structured programs in 70 languages that build basic communication skills.

Another free option is to utilize the abundance of resources on YouTube. Whether you seek out content made specifically for language-learning purposes or simply watch your favorite genre of videos in another language, the site is a great resource. There are also many free podcasts meant to help with language acquisition.

If you prefer a quick and mobile option, give the app Duolingo a shot. Similar to Mango, it’s free and has step-by-step programs to help users learn as many as 28 different languages, including two fictional languages: Klingon and High Valerian. The short sessions make it easy to squeeze into a busy schedule.

If you want to reap the benefits of bilingualism, it’s never too late to get started learning another language whether you want to communicate with those different from yourself, see the world in different terms, or try to see cognitive advantages for yourself.

Want to start learning?

Check out our list of easy, free language-learning apps in countless languages, from Arabic to Spanish.