One of the first things people always told me prior to my departure for a semester abroad in Rome was that “everyone in Europe speaks English.” Upon my arrival to the Eternal City in the fall of 2014, I began to understand how much truth there was in that presumption. I was (and still am) astounded at the volume of Europeans who are able to read, write, and speak the English language effortlessly.
There’s something so admirable about watching a person who’s mothertounge is not English hold a complex conversation with a native-speaker. After experiencing this phenomenon first-hand on dozens of occasions, I began to feel both inspired and inferior. After 13 years of private-school education, I could just about mumble the basic Italian I had learned in high school as an adult, yet I was constantly surrounded by people who could rattle off two, three, four, or more languages with ease.
That semester, I set my sights on learning to speak Italian. After all, I already had three years of classroom education under my belt, so I was that much closer to fluency.
Three years later, I can proudly say that I speak at an intermediate level and feel completely confident talking to an Italian-speaker on a variety of topics, which I credit to a four months of language classes and a whole lotta’ Duolingo. Though admittedly, I still have a LOT more to learn.
So you’re probably thinking, “That’s cool Victoria, but I hardly ever leave the United States. Why do I need to learn a second language?”. Great question; I’m here to tell you why.
Let’s start with the biological benefits, as explained by EFL lecturer Anne Merritt.
- Your ability to negotiate meaning in problem-solving situations improves
- You tend to score better on standardized tests
- You improve your multitasking skills
- You minimize your risk for developing Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Your memory gets better
- You become increasingly perceptive
- Your decision-making is enhanced
- You get better at English
If your practical self is wondering why you should bother trying to learn another language, consider this – studies show that bilingual employees can earn between 5% and 20% more per hour than their monolingual counterparts.
But perhaps the most valuable gain, as far as I’m concerned, is a greater sense of cultural understanding. Aside from communicating with a foreign people, embarking on a quest to speak another language becomes the gateway for learning more about the cultural traditions of a nation. Your vantage point of the world will be drastically widened, and you’ll become more eager to expand your knowledge of other people’s worldviews. Prejudices will diminish and a greater awareness for the beauty of cultural differences will emerge. And I mean that in the least possible hippie/preachy/let’s-all-get-along kind of way.
After picking up the basics, I promise you that you’ll gain the momentum you need to keep pushing forward. You’ll feel empowered when you start to realize the short and long-term advantages of bilingual communication. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to learning a third!