According to a new study from Pew Research Center, Americans still arent all that thrilled (or required) to learn a foreign language, especially when compared to their multilingual European counterparts.
Most European countries with the exceptions of Ireland and Scotland require the study of at least one foreign language, while many nations require the study of second foreign language as well. (Gaelic isnt considered a foreign language in Ireland.) In the United States, languages arent pushed at the national level, and the requirements to learn a foreign language (or not) vary widely from state to state, which in turn means many American only speak one language fluently and sometimes even struggle with that one.
In case you need a bit of a kick onto the foreign language path, here are five very good reason Americans should learn more languages.
1. Better Brains
Study after study shows that acquiring different languages significantly boosts brainpower. Learning vocab and grammar rules improves memory, mathematical skills and exercises the brain (use it or lose it) by forcing it to look for new patterns in languages, catalog grammar exceptions, relate language and foreign idioms to historical, geopolitical and sociocultural trends and solve communication problems stemming from linguistic and cultural differences. So the next time someone says, Look at the big brain on Becky, you just might be able to chalk Beckys big brains up to the fact that shes a serious polyglot.
2. Make Friends
This one is pretty obvious. If you can speak another languages, you can talk to people in that language and get to know them. Even if you aren’t fluent yet and are just getting by, people often appreciate the effort youve made even if they laugh at some of your novice mistakes on occasion. Your interest in their language and culture won’t go unnoticed, and all of that linguistics goodwill can go a long way when making new friends.
3. Watch Enemies
Its true. Lots of people out there want to do you in, and theyre not planning their nefarious activities in Standard American English. The military even fired Defense Language Institute (DLI) Arabic translators as well as specialists in other languages in the past under the don’t ask dont tell regime despite the fact that the intelligence community was (and still is) in desperate need of foreign language experts. If a second or third language were common for Americans to know, itd be a lot easier for the powers that be to enlist help (regardless of sexual orientation) in their efforts to keep an eye on folks with murderous intentions in their hearts.
4. Keep Alzheimers and Dementia at Bay
Yep, knowing and learning different languages can help delay the onset of Alzheimers and dementia. While the research doesnt suggest bilingualism can stop these debilitating conditions, people who are multilingual can look forward to an extra four years or so without dementia or Alzheimers when stacked up against people who are only monolingual. By working the linguistic cognitive functions of the brain, the average age of Alzheimers onset (early 70s) can be knocked back to the late 70s. And thats nothing to scoff at.
5. Become a Super Sleuth
If you want to know whats going on around you, you have to pay attention to the clues. By knowing more than one language, you would have already trained your brain to watch out for details a monolingual gal or guy might have missed. Language training forces the mind to sift through information from a variety of angles, as well as false friends (words that sound familiar, but arent like, like embarazada in Spanish, which means pregnant not embarrassed), murky information and ways of thinking spanning different geographical regions and cultural traditions. Honing these skills translates into a more agile and perceptive brain, which makes it a lot harder for someone whos multilingual to be duped.
Want to be a private detective (even if just helping a friend find a lost wallet)? Youll need a more flexible mind, which is why youll want to learn a foreign language or two before you become the Sherlock Holmes or if youre more accident prone, the Inspector Clouseau of your neighborhood.
Carl Pettit is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.