Knowing more than one language is fast becoming a requirement for anyone who wants to compete and thrive in a world where boundaries and barriers are becoming less relevant. In addition to the language itself, multilingual learners can take advantage of the full scope of accompanying cognitive and social skills—making them great employees, leaders in their communities, and true global citizens.
The U.S. Lags Behind in Language Education
Most students in the U.S. graduate high school knowing only one language—making it the only developed country in the world for which language learning is not a recognized priority.
In the United States, only one in five K-12 students1 (and about one in 12 university students2) is enrolled in a world language class. This is a woefully small number of students, especially when compared to other countries:
92% of students in Europe learn another language in school.
Nearly 1 in 4 Canadians can hold a conversation in both English and French.
Across Africa, more schools are teaching in both the student’s first language and English, French, Dutch, or Portuguese.
While precise measurements are difficult, many sources estimate that one out of every two people on the planet knows at least two languages.
There may have been a time in the U.S. when becoming multilingual was a luxury. But to thrive in an interconnected world—with its expanding population, evolving technologies, and growing emphasis on competing globally—it’s a requirement. And remember, three out of four humans don’t speak English.
Top 10 Benefits of Learning More Than One Language
1. Improve Your Career & Business
When employers list the skills they most seek in a candidate, “knowing more than one language” is listed among the top eight—regardless of the job title, the economic sector, or the candidate’s experience. In other words, whether you’re an engineer, a restaurant server, a salesperson, or a small business owner—any role in any sector—multilingualism will serve your professional goals well.
And while knowing more than one language is a powerful way to distinguish yourself from your peers and colleagues, it’s becoming less of a nice-to-have and more of a job requirement. A full 90% of U.S. employers report relying on employees who speak more than one language—with one in three of these businesses reporting a significant “language skills gap.”
2. Build Deeper Connections With More People
When you can communicate with someone in her language, you open up infinite ways to connect. The entire experience of interacting with your fellow humans—getting to know them, working alongside them—is enriched by sharing their language. You will be shaped by communities. You will be humbled by the kindness of strangers. You will build lifelong friendships.
When you can communicate with someone in her language, you open up infinite ways to connect.
3. Sharpen Your Decision-Making
Decisions made in a second language are more reason-driven than decisions made in your first language.3 When tackling a challenge in a second (or third or fourth) language, you gain the objectivity and emotional distance you need to properly assess the situation. The result? Clear-eyed choices made through sound, systematic thinking.
4. Feed Your Brain
Research indicates that people who speak more than one language develop a better memory, talent for problem-solving, ability to concentrate, and tendency to be creative than people who speak only one language. Knowing at least a second language also reduces the chances of cognitive decline as you age.
5. Treasure Other Cultures
Culture is the collection of a group’s traditions, arts, customs, social institutions, and achievements, passed from generation to generation. But the surest way to understand a culture—to know it, empathize with it, and come to adore it—is to know its language. In studies, children who have studied an additional language like and respect the culture associated with that language, as well as demonstrate higher levels of empathy and tolerance. Language learning deepens and expands the way we move through the world.
Language learning deepens and expands the way we move through the world.
6. See the World (More Fully)
When you travel somewhere and know the language, the entire experience transforms. Traveling becomes more dynamic—more full of nuance and opportunities. Knowing the language lets you escape the “tourist bubble” and to interact with people and places nobody else could. You can read the street signs to find amazing locales, engage in more meaningful conversation, and immerse yourself in local culture, food, and art.
7. Boost Your Confidence
As you’re learning a language, you’ll make plenty of mistakes—often in front of the audience of your teacher and classmates. But these “mistakes” are actually steps toward becoming a more proficient speaker and more resilient learner. Studying a language allows you to take risks and step into something new and slightly uncomfortable, offering a fantastic chance to grow and mature. And when you eventually find yourself conversing with someone in their language, your sense of accomplishment will be unparalleled.
Studying a language allows you to take risks and step into something new and slightly uncomfortable, offering a fantastic chance to grow and mature.
8. Expand Your Perspective
Learning another language means learning another culture. And learning another culture means drawing comparisons between it and your own culture. You naturally discover places—places both positive and negative—where the cultures diverge. Your understanding of the awesomeness of humanity’s diversity and ingenuity grows in a thousand new directions.
9. Experience Art in Its Original Form
Most of the world’s history and art—its books, news, films, music, essays, stories, and online experiences—are in a language you don’t (yet) know. With more than 7,000 spoken languages on Earth, you could spend countless lifetimes exploring the many source materials if only you knew the language. Reading a love poem by Neruda in its original Spanish, reciting Homer’s epics in their original Greek, or watching “Rashomon” in Kurosawa’s original Japanese—these are all profound experiences that only language learning can offer.
10. Become a Polyglot
When you learn a second language, two amazing things happen. First, you come to know and speak your first language better. Second, learning a third language is much easier than the second (especially for children).4 Take a bold step toward communicating in as many languages as you choose!