To have another language is to possess a second soul.
There is a point in life when you come across a question and keep thinking about it for so long that it becomes a part of your identity. It defines how you think. In my case I experienced it when I had completed almost one year in my first job. Steve jobs said ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’. I hungered for more in life.
Might be the complacency of working in a PSU bank did not whet my appetite. Since childhood I was attracted to literature and that’s what I wanted to major in college. Now that I was financially independent, I did not see any reason why I should not pursue my childhood dream. So I chose to be a bit different by opting to learn a foreign language which not only kept me in close proximity to literature but also favoured my other hobby of learning about a different culture.
Benefits of multilingualism
Even though the Queen’s English is the global language, it does not mean that it enjoys the status of vox populi. Adding another language to your skill set can help with your career prospects, corporate success, college admission, study experience and personal development. In fact bilingualism is passé and multilingualism is the lingua franca now. So let me present the advantages of learning a new language.
Cognitive benefits of learning a foreign language
Physiological studies show that individuals having knowledge of two or more languages can perform better in tasks that require focus, inhibition and short term memory , collectively known as ‘executive control ‘. Scientists from Georgetown University Medical Centre, U.S.A, compared grey matter volume between adult bilinguals and monolinguals and found out that bilinguals possessed more grey matter as compared to monolinguals in the frontal and parietal regions of brain that is responsible for executive control functions. This phenomenon is not only restricted to young learners but also to people who begin their study of foreign language as adults and achieve native fluency like young learners , and hence reap the same mental benefits.
1. Become a smarter individual
Language acquisition challenges an individual to recognize new characters, written scripts, vocabulary, intonation etc which improves the functioning of brain. This activates the neural networks and your ability to negotiate meaning. In fact a study conducted by Illinois State University has shown that students who know foreign language perform better in standardized tests as compared to their monolingual peers in both mathematics as well as verbal section.
2. Boost your memory power
Exercise improves one’s muscle strength. In the same way language learning serves as an exercise for the brain muscles. Memorising and applying the rules of grammar and improvising one’s vocabulary list improves overall memory strength which makes multiple language learners better at remembering shopping lists , phone numbers , names and directions as per a study conducted by University of New Brunswick Canada.
3. Improve your multitasking skills
A research experiment conducted by Pennsylvania State University on participants using a driving simulator while doing different and distracting tasks at the same time, showed that multilingual speakers made fewer errors while driving. Researchers attribute this to the existence of cross – language interaction and competition at every stage of language learning, from words to grammar to speech. Language learners need to switch between two systems of speech, writing and structure. This juggling skill makes them adept multitaskers as they can easily switch between different language structures.
4. Improved observation and perception
Good language learners always look at clues to understand how a language system works. They perform better in tasks that require conflict management. In the experiment Stroop task, where people see a word and are asked to name the color of the word’s font, it was observed that bilinguals were able to correctly name the color more quickly when the color and the word did not match (e.g., when the word “red” was printed in blue). This requires the cognitive system to employ additional resources to ignore the irrelevant word and focus on the relevant color. This ability to ignore competing perceptual information and focus on the relevant aspects of the input is called inhibitory control. Bilingual people often perform better than monolingual people at tasks that tap into inhibitory control ability which means they can focus on relevant information by editing the irrelevant ones. They cannot be easily misled and hence stand by their judgment when they are surrounded by so many lucrative advertisements and publicity.
5. Better decision making skills
Language learners need to understand the subtle nuances and implications in its vocabulary and pronunciation. This can only be done when one thinks in that language which subconsciously affects our brain and moral judgment. As a result bilinguals are more confident about their choices and decisions after thinking it over in the second language.
6. Delays Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
Psychologists from York University in Toronto tested about 450 patients suffering from Alzheimer’s. Half of the patients were bilingual and the rest spoke one language. It was observed that even though everyone had similar levels of cognitive impairment, the bilingual patients had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about four years later. This is because bilingual people have to constantly exercise their brain system to prevent two languages from interfering from one another as they sort through multiple options for each word and switch back and forth between the two languages. This results in greater exercise of the brain’s executive control system which happens to be the most important part of a human’s mind. This evidence is not only restricted to young learners who grew up learning a second language but also to late learners who started learning a foreign language later in life.
7. Improve your own native language
Quoting Sir Geoffrey Willans “You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.”While learning a foreign language you focus on the mechanics of the language like sentence structure, conjugations of verb, grammar and pronunciation. You become more adept at distinguishing meaning from discreet sounds. This not only sharpens your language acquisition skills but also makes you more fluent in your native language. For example approximately 60% of English vocabulary stems from French words. This not only improved my vocabulary but the grammar complexities challenged me to revisit my middle school English grammar. As a teacher I could relate better to students from ethnic backgrounds or students who are complete beginners because I went through the same process of being a student recently.
Also after learning one foreign language it becomes extremely easy to learn another language independently as you become well versed with language acquisition techniques with a greater awareness of grammar, syntax, phonetics etc. Your brain’s muscle memory is strengthened which allows your brain to identify the techniques to learn a language and simplify them into a series of steps.
Personal benefits of learning a second language
1. Become more creative
Not only will you learn about the culture, cuisine, movies and literature but also develop an appreciation for them. You will enjoy literature more as you will understand the original text rather than relying upon translated version of the text where the original essence is lost. Apart from this learning a foreign language helps you to experiment with new words and phrases. It forces you to look out for alternate words when you are not able to recall the original one that you intended to use which improves your skills in divergent thinking, i.e. the art of identifying multiple solutions to a single problem.
2. Boost your self – confidence
Whenever a new skill is mastered, confidence level improves because you teach yourself to believe in yourself to achieve anything. You set new goals and try diligently to achieve them. The same applies to language learning also. Not only you become more confident but also more open minded and ready to embrace new set of ideas, culture and people. You all will agree that confident people are more interesting than those who are confused about themselves. Achieving something releases endorphins and therefore bilinguals are happier, more impressive and of course romantic.
Career prospects and Courses
Knowledge of foreign language can offer a plethora of opportunities. The opportunities can open up depending on your level of engagement with the language. As you deepen your engagement by pursuing higher levels, you will realize that opportunities to study and work are incredibly vast. Companies and BPO have tie ups with Max Mueller Bhavan , Allaince Française and Instituto Hispania and come for campus interviews for recruitment.
Salaries could range from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 1 lakh a month and even an interpreter can earn around Rs.1000 – Rs.2000 per day in translation work. Knowing a foreign language is definitely an asset, but it should not be the only base for career. In fact people from all walks of life like doctors, engineers and MBAs are upgrading their language skills for business success.
In today’s hyper connected world and globalised economy potential employers consider this as valuable in an employee’s skill set. In this age of start – ups, companies are breaking into new markets and they are always in a lookout for people who can negotiate with manufacturers of other countries and communicate with customers who don’t speak your native language. Also the fact that your ability to speak a second language clearly indicates that you are driven and motivated to learn new skills.
Earlier the market demand for learning a foreign language depended on external factors like international and economic ties with a particular country. For example when Sino – Indian relationship was strained, Mandarin was not a popular choice. At that point of time India had good relations with USSR which explains the popularity of Russian language at that point of time. When China and India’s economic relationship improved, so did the demand for that language and right now ‘Look East ‘is the recent phenomenon and Japanese, Korean and Chinese are the most sought after languages.
However the good thing now is that the demand for foreign language skills is also being driven by the domestic market and not the foreign market exclusively. Apart from MNCs, one can serve the government sector as foreign diplomats and can qualify for them via UPSC exams. Indian Armed Forces, RAW, paramilitary forces, embassies are other opportunities to research. The External Services division of All India Radio broadcasts transmissions in 27 languages out of which 15 are foreign. Hence one can also explore opportunities to work in print and electronic media.
Also international curriculum schools offer French, German, Spanish or Mandarin as one of their subjects as there is an increased awareness and demand by NRI as well as local parents who want their children to learn one of these languages. Max Mueller Bhavan has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with schools such as DPS, Vasant Kunj and Kendriya Vidyalaya to provide training to school teachers who teach German.
To pursue a language course one can enroll in a recognised institute such as Alliance Française or the Goethe Institute. Apart from this one can enroll for Certificate, Diploma and Advanced Diploma courses from Delhi University. These degrees qualify the eligibility conditions to pursue a Master’s course in case a student does not possess a Bachelor’s degree in that language.
Different universities have different requirements. For example JNU does not mention any specific level to appear for its entrance exams. EFLU (English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad) requires a B1 level to appear for their entrance exams. Bangalore University directly admits students who have achieved C1 level in that language and have no entrance tests for their Masters Programme.
My personal experience as a foreign language student and teacher
When I started learning French five years back, I started it with the sole purpose of following my hobby. Language learning is one of my hobbies and I intend to learn German and dare myself with Japanese. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought that I will convert my hobby into a full time career. Might be this unadulterated motive gave me the reason to continue.
Pursuing one’s hobby does require tenacity and like all relationships there won’t be sunny days always and reality will hit you especially if you are managing your work life as well as classes. Not only that you need to figure out time to practice apart from what is taught in the class. Most students drop or leave by the end of level 2 which is A2 level resulting in fewer students for level 3 , B1, level. As a result after qualifying my level A2, I had to wait for few months for a study batch to start off.
It never happened in my case and the batches that were formed clashed with my work timings, hence forcing me to hire a private tutor who compressed the entire syllabus in just 30 classes instead of the normal 200 hour programme that Alliançe offers. It was stressful not only because of the less number of classes but also there is a sharp increase in the level of difficulty from A2 to B1 level unlike that of A1 to A2 level .
However I pulled up, though I still feel that if I attended regular classes I could have performed better. I applied the same practice when I started level 5 which is C1 level as my work time did not suit my class time. I guess my earlier stint and language acquisition skills made me more confident and independent to take this step. Going through all this and now that I am learning German on my own, I can say it with certainty that you can learn a new language without joining any formal classes.
This does not mean that I am against classes. In fact given an opportunity I would any day prefer going to a class because it provides a good platform to mingle with new people who are on the same learning journey as that of yours apart from accessing the well resourced libraries and caféterias that these learning centres have.
However if you stay in a place where there is no such institute or class timings are not suitable, then I don’t see any reason not to pursue one’s hobby as the internet is flooded with materials for beginners to intermediate and advanced level learners.
After all as Paulo Coelho said ‘When you want something all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it’. So the path may be difficult but definitely not impossible and my next article would focus on tips to prevent language attrition and to accelerate language learning.
Image credit: Indian Express