While learning a new language has many practical benefits, there are a few spiritual ones you might be surprised to discover.
Science tells us that learning a language is great for our gray matter. In fact, having an extra language is a form of gymnastics for our brain; helping to prevent dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases in old age, and aiding concentration among younger bilinguals, according to LiveScience. Yet there are many other advantages to picking up an extra language that might make you want to get out that phrase book.
If you ever go to a foreign country and don’t know the local lingo you might feel a little vulnerable — while ordering food can be tricky, a trip to the ER is a whole new ball game. It’s pretty embarrassing trying to make yourself understood using sounds that you don’t feel physically capable of repeating. And let’s not get started on those irregular verb endings!
Yet what you might not appreciate is that making a little effort, putting yourself in the position of making a mistake — and yes, you will make many — is really endearing to your host nation. You’re demonstrating that you are willing to make a fool of yourself just to be able to converse. You’re telling that person that they are worth your efforts.
Quite simply “to learn a language, you have to humble yourself,” Julianne Bryant, an associate professor of Spanish at Biola University in La Mirada explained to the LA Times. And this is doubly hard for those who take pride in mastering their language and communication skills.
This humbling experience is also worthwhile if you want to really get to know and appreciate new cultures. While you can try on rely on the various language apps out there, by really trying to get to grips with the meaning of a word or phrase you might come across the rich history or tradition that surrounds it, teaching you more about the place you’re visiting and the people you come across. And by learning about these different lifestyles you’ll be more empathetic and understanding of different peoples, leading to greater compassion and empathy.
If that’s not enough, just think how your language skills might be able to help others who need assistance and don’t know how to ask for it. Acting as a translator is a great way to aid others and meet new people at the same time.
So now that you have a good spiritual reason to learn another language — growing in humility — here are some handy hints to get you started:
1Choose the right language
We often like the sound of one language more than another, so that’s a great way to decide what language you want to learn. You may also need to learn a language for work, for conversing with a new family member, or for foreign travels. These are all great motivators to help you on your way!
2Switch on the TV
Here’s a great reason to allow your kids more screen time! For kids, try to get them to watch their favorite shows in the foreign language you want to learn. Older kids and adults can do the same but watch it with subtitles (in the foreign language too).
3Head to your local library
Head to your local library and pick up some books. At first you’ll have to get a basic grammar book and from there work your way up. While exercises are useful for perfecting grammar, they can be a bit tedious, so try reading a short novel. You can also get a hold of newspapers and magazines in foreign languages that are fun to flick through.
4Join a small group
A great source of help can be a group at your local church or even online. Find people who speak the language you want to learn and consider putting a group together to get learning.
If you’re lucky enough, you might be able to spend a few months in a country that speaks your language of choice. Failing that, a nice vacation will get you started. The positive experience might even encourage you to crack open a few books when you get home.