If you’d like to pursue a fresh creative outlet but feel less than inspired by more traditional options like nail art, hand lettering or experimenting with new dessert recipes, have no fear! In addition to being super useful in all of your epic adventures around the world, learning a language is also a great way to help you access your creative side. Gaining new language skills — whether in French, Spanish, Mandarin or even programming code — is associated with benefits that can pay off for years to come. To learn more, we talked to Miriam Plieninger — Director of Didactics at language-learning app Babbel — and Charles Severance, who puts his computer science PhD to good use as the Clinical Associate Professor of Information at the University of Michigan School of Information.
“I’ve always loved what language can do,” Plieninger says. “New languages open new worlds to you.” While Severance may teach his students about programming languages instead of the spoken or written word, he echoes Plieninger’s feelings about the importance and inspirational value of language. “I truly think of coding as a form of communication, much like any other verbal language,” he says. “It just happens between humans and computing equipment.”
Thanks to input from our experts, we’ve pulled together a half-dozen reasons you should consider learning another language this year. Keep scrolling for all the details.
1. Language skills tap into your imagination. Learning is inherently a creative process, so trying anything new is a great way to get your brain working in an unfamiliar way and to see what kind of learning is most effective for you. When you add language into the mix, you’re also starting to absorb a different culture, which helps expand your way of looking at things. “Expressions and phrases in a different language can often be funny and special,” Plieninger says. “Picking up new phrases will tap into your creativity by giving you all sorts of expressions for everyday events.”
2. You’ll become a better thinker and problem-solver. When your brain understands multiple languages and begins to switch back and forth between them, you become even more of a master multitasker. Plieninger cites research from a study at Penn State that found that people who speak more than one language even make fewer mistakes when driving (the ultimate multitasking test, in our opinion). Learning to code is especially helpful for your problem-solving skills. “We must understand not only the problem we need to solve, but also how to translate that problem into a form that’s much simpler so a computer can understand,” Severance explains.
3. Your brain will practice breaking things down into smaller pieces. Have you ever felt totally overwhelmed by a complicated situation? Language studies are great practice for breaking things down to make them more manageable. Remember when you were a kid and had to learn about parts of speech, rules of sentence construction and tenses? If you challenge your brain to absorb that information in a whole different language, it will totally pay off in the way you approach problems and projects in others areas of your life!
4. Your memory will improve. “If you imagine your brain as a muscle, constantly exercising and teaching it new things will make it better at remembering things,” Plieninger says. Studies show that language pros are less at risk for memory-related health issues such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
5. Your understanding of your native language will grow stronger. Maybe you think your grasp of your native tongue is perfect as perfect can be, but there’s always room to grow. Even someone who writes every day — whether professionally for work or casually on social media — is pretty rarely thinking about why words work together in that way that “just sounds right.” Picking up a new language can get you thinking more seriously about the structures behind the one you grew up fluent in. It never hurts to be a better communicator — in any language.
6. It opens professional doors. Even if your job doesn’t require you to travel, it’s a huge bonus to have extra language skills on your resume — plus, the other benefits we’ve listed are bound to make you a sharper candidate for any position that comes your way. Coding, in particular, will likely prove increasingly important as a way to distinguish yourself from the pack of other people interviewing for a new gig. “Many high-paying career options out there today have technology and some form of programming as part of the required skill set,” Severance shares. “Understanding programming — at some level — also enables people to have a basic sense of what computers can accomplish.”
If you’re feeling a little intimidated by the prospect of taking on a brand-new language this year, Plieninger has some advice to help you remember that the process can be fun and creative. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!” she encourages. “Once you leave your comfort zone behind and you start talking to people in your new language, you’ll notice your confidence start to change and grow. Once that happens, don’t stop!”
What new language would you want to learn? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)