By Sol Garay |
In honor of recently completing my Japanese course at Riverside City College, I thought I would write about some of the benefits of learning another language. Knowing more than one language poses as more than just a party trick and can lead to both cognitive benefits and even professional advantages.
Author’s note: Read until the end to know about my personal endeavors when it comes to learning a language!
Cognitive Benefits of Learning another Language
There are many proven cognitive benefits of learning another language. Research indicates that people who speak more than one language tend to develop a better memory, have more creativity, and overall increased cognitive abilities. In addition, knowing at least a second language reduces the chances of cognitive decline as you age. A recent study by the Department of Psychology at York University in Toronto, found that diseases such as Alzheimer’s can be halted by up to five years, on average, for those who fluently speak more than one language.
Learning another language can help boost your opportunities in a professional setting as well. Apart from having the door open to international career opportunities, being bilingual or multilingual can give you an advantage in today’s competitive job market. Take two candidates for a position for example, they both have the same exact resume, experience, everything. However, candidate 1 speaks English and Spanish, whereas candidate 2 only speaks English. Which candidate do you think would more likely be hired? Which one would you hire? In addition, knowing another language can give you an edge when it comes to networking! Having an extra language “in your back pocket” is the perfect way to build professional relationships and understand diverse cultures at a deeper level.
Learning a new language can lead you to explore new cultures or different worldviews and perspectives. For example, let’s say you begin to study French. There are dozens of countries around the world who use French as their primary language and learning it would be as if you’ve opened a window to the French speaking world. Each language carries unique cultural nuances and expressions that may be different than those of your native language; learning these new nuances can give you a deeper understanding of cultural contexts associated with that language.
According to the Language Connects Foundation, most students in the United States graduate high school knowing only one language – making it the only developed country in the world for which language learning is not recognized as a priority. Comparing this feat with students from Europe, where 92% of them learn another language in school, and it becomes clear how far behind the United States is in this category.
Have you ever seen those videos on YouTube or Facebook with titles like: “WHITE GUY SPEAKS MANDARIN AT THE CHINESE FOOD RESTAURANT AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT”? Sure, they may be a bit outlandish, but as far back as I can remember (well really until Freshman year of high school when I got my first cell phone) I would spend countless hours on YouTube watching these types of videos focused on polyglots. It always fascinated me, especially seeing the reactions of people when they would hear their native language from an unlikely source.
Growing up in a Hispanic household and speaking Spanish all the time, I have always understood the value of knowing more than one language. I would speak Spanish at home and English at school. It became normal switching back and forth between the two, and it helped me out a lot when it came time to apply for those summer jobs at the Tyler Mall in high school. However, it wasn’t until my time in university where I truly began to pursue learning different languages. The first language I studied was Mandarin. I began learning on my own using Duolingo, but then slowly began purchasing textbooks and study guides. In addition, like most UC’s, UCSD has a large international student population and so I had many friends I could practice with. I ended up studying Mandarin for about 2 years until I began my junior year in San Diego.
The next language I picked up was French. For this language, I took several French courses on campus. French was always a language I wanted to learn but the main reason I took French was because I knew that I would need it for my Study Abroad program that summer. I was set to study abroad in Paris, so I knew that I wanted to know at least the basic fundamentals of French before leaving.
I will admit. My French class was hard. Very hard. I struggled a lot in the class and spoiler alert: I ended up failing the grammar portion of the course. However, I did end up passing the speaking aspect of it, and by the time I returned from my trip in Paris I felt much more comfortable with my French. To this day I would say my French is pretty decent. Better than my Mandarin that’s for sure.
Finally, the next and most recent language I have pursued is Japanese. Like most kids who grew up watching Dragon Ball Z or Naruto on Cartoon Network, I was exposed to Japanese at a very young age. I knew that Japanese was a language I would eventually want to learn, but I wanted to wait until I knew for certain that I was going to travel to Japan. Well, in October of 2022 that day finally came. However, it was a super last-minute trip, so I did not have much time to prepare for it at all, language-wise. I went to Japan, had an amazing time, but couldn’t help but feel a bit frustrated. There were so many instances where I wish I had known more Japanese, especially when I was talking to the local friends I made amidst the Shibuya nightlife. Upon my return to the United States, I began to study Japanese by myself. I downloaded Duolingo, purchased a few Japanese language books from my local Barnes and Nobles, and went full Japanese mode for a couple months – until I got burnt out. It was tough learning a new language on my own again, especially for a language as difficult as Japanese. Add this to the fact that I was starting my new job in the Mayor’s Office, and it became quite difficult trying to balance my studying, social life, and now work life.
For these reasons, I enrolled in Japanese 1 at Riverside City College. And having just finished the class, I can honestly say that it was great! The class was Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:00 – 8:30 PM, and it worked perfectly with my schedule, as I was able to drive to campus directly from City Hall after work. In addition, Suzuki-Sensei was an amazing professor. He was very patient and kind, and truly cared about his students learning Japanese. I would definitely recommend him if you planned on taking Japanese at Riverside City College!
Since I began learning Japanese, I have gained a deeper understanding of Japanese culture and values. It even feels as if I behave differently when speaking Japanese, as opposed to when I speak English or Spanish. For example, I find myself bowing instinctively when saying words like Arigato (thank you) or Sumimasen (excuse me). I do plan on enrolling in Japanese 2 next fall semester, but in the meantime, I will continue studying Japanese on my own. And the next time I go to Japan, I will be better prepared!