It doesn’t matter how much you love languages—learning a few at once can be tricky.
Turns out, there’s a lot of advantages to learning multiple languages at once.
So if you’re asking yourself, “what language should I learn?” don’t just settle for one!
Here, I plan to demonstrate that doing it is worth every ounce of effort you put into the task. I’ll give you five profound benefits that make learning languages cool—and worthwhile for every person on this planet.
- The 5 Big Advantages to Learning Multiple Languages at Once
The 5 Big Advantages to Learning Multiple Languages at Once
1. It’s Good for Your Brain
Did you know that your brain can be structurally changed for the better in just three short months?
That’s right! Swedish and German scientists conducted a study on conscript interpreters—people who deal with multiple languages as part of their daily jobs—and measured the size of each one’s hippocampus and cerebral cortex. They then subjected these interpreters to three months of intensive language studies. Military boot camp style!
After 90 days of intense training, the scientists, donning their spotless lab coats, came in and again measured their subjects’ brains. They discovered that their interpreters’ hippocampal regions, along with three other areas of the cortex, had grown significantly. The cortical areas increased in their thickness, indicating higher fire power for these areas of the brain.
Learning multiple languages isn’t only about increasing brain mass, it improves memory as well. Psychologist set out to determine the cognitive differences between monolingual and bilingual children, or if any even existed.
They subjected the children to a battery of mental tasks which measured working memory, executive function, visuospatial span, cognitive quickness and conflict resolution. What they discovered was very telling indeed. Bilingual children outclassed their monolingual counterparts in all test conditions. In short, people who grow up bilingual have faster, more accurate and more robust mental capacities.
If you want your kids to have a head start in life, start them young on the road to learning multiple languages.
Lastly, it’s been known that just speaking a second language can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. One study has shown that being bilingual, as opposed to being monolingual, may delay the onset of dementia for a good 5.1 years.
The brain is like a muscle. The more you use it, the sharper and stronger it gets. Multilingual people have the advantage of having brains that are in good shape. The benefits of switching back and forth between languages is priceless.
They have brains that need to recognize, distinguish and analyze the different linguistic patterns, intonations, vocabulary, grammatical rules and idiomatic expressions of different languages. Because of that need to do more, they have well-oiled neurons which are less prone to the detrimental effects of old age.
2. It Saves Precious Time
Imaging that you’re travelling in South America and get lost while on the way to officiate a wedding. You’re standing at an actual crossroad and looking up at two signs. The left one says “Una Via“ (One Way), the one on the right says, “Camino Cerrado Delante“ (Road Closed Ahead). Can you imagine how much driving time you’d save simply knowing what those signs mean?
How about finding yourself at a French mall and badly needing to go to the restroom because your tummy disagreed with the escargot you had for lunch. Can you imagine looking at foreign signs that would score 70 points in Scrabble? Or imagine finding yourself trying to communicate with French men who fake not knowing any English, desperately gesturing and asking where the rest room is.
Wouldn’t life be much easier if you could communicate while abroad in France or Spain? That way you’d make the most of your 5-day vacation instead of spending half of it looking for some dingy rest room.
If learning a second language is such a time saver, how about learning a third and a fourth language? Imagine how much of the world you could navigate!
That being said, learning more than one language at a time requires careful planning and an awesome strategy.
There are two ways of studying multiple languages.
One way is sequentially and the other is simultaneously. The methods are right in the names. Doing multiple languages at the same time (simultaneously) saves time because, in a way, you’re multitasking. Instead of getting fluent in one language in 1.5 years, you become fluent in 2 languages in 2 years.
3. You Can Take Full Advantage of Similarities and Differences Between Languages
One advantage of learning multiple languages at once is that you can play the languages off of one another. You can take notice of (and better remember) the eccentricities of a language by noting its similarities or differences with another tongue.
An example of this are the many cognates shared by romance languages. Cognates are words in different languages that share similar spelling, meaning and pronunciation. Examples in French – Italian – Spanish are:
French: le bras
Italian: il braccio
Spanish: el brazo
French: la fièvre
Italian: la febbre
Spanish: la fiebre
French: la langue
Italian: la lingua
Spanish: la lengua
If you notice, the spelling, meaning and pronunciation of these words (and many, many others) are similar for French, Italian and Spanish, indicating that they have a common etymology.
Cognates are very useful for 2 major things.
1. Vocabulary building. Let’s say you’re studying French, Italian and Spanish simultaneously. In the examples above, instead of building your vocabulary in just one language, you’re building it for 3 at the price of 1.
2. Contextualizing. Cognates are very useful for contextualizing. As I’ve said, you can play the languages off of one another. For example, your new Italian friend told you over the phone, “let’s meet on sabato.” The problem is, you’re not sure if “sabato” is a newly-opened Italian restaurant downtown. Fortunately, you do know that “sábado” is Saturday in Spanish.
In short, knowing a second language puts you at a definite advantage in learning a third or a fourth one. So, why learn it serially when you can do it simultaneously?
4. Tackling Multiple Languages Keeps You From Getting Bored
Another advantage of learning languages simultaneously is that it keeps you alive and alert on the task.
Tired of differentiating ser from estar? Sick of “Buenas dias”? Try a little Anyong Haseyo and discover a whole new soul in the Korean language.
Tired of watching Spanish telenovelas or listening to Latin songs? Try some of the awesome Japanese drama series that currently populate the internet.
It’s also easier than ever to learn several languages at once. For example, FluentU is one option where you can study 10 languages with one account. The program lets you watch authentic videos like movie clips and inspirational talks in any of these languages and saves your progress in each, so you can switch between them or pick a different video any time you find yourself getting bored.
You don’t have to bury yourself for months on end in a single language. There always comes a point in any language learner’s endeavors when they finally plateau and get sick of the lessons. You can either barrel through that phase, or you can refresh yourself by getting into another language. Don’t think of it as quitting, think of it as productively redirecting your language learning energies. What’s important is that you can have several language “mistresses” on the side. It keeps things interesting. This works especially well for languages that are so different, they are like a breath of fresh air.
5. It Opens Opportunities for Employment, Romance and Multicultural Understanding
Learning a 2nd language broadens employment opportunities. Being a multilingual compounds your prospects and give you a sharp edge in the job market. (The truth is, even when you won’t be using “Swedish, Norwegian, Danish” in your work. But writing those on your resume makes you stand out from the rest of the English-only crowd. Cool, huh?)
Over the next decade, Spanish and Chinese speaking skills will be one of the most critical skills sought for by recruiters.
As globalism surges forward, it makes learning multiple languages ever more essential. English isn’t enough anymore. A great number of international corporations aren’t based in English-speaking countries. In addition, US-based corporations are waking up to the fact that in order to flourish in the emerging markets, they have to learn how to say “Ni Hao” and not just “How are you?“
On the romantic end, you’ll be ready to start a bilingual relationship. When your significant other has a different first language than you, what better way is there to express affection than learning romantic phrases in their native tongue? “Sorry” is just different when you say “lo siento.” And who knows, she might just forgive you.
Speaking your love’s language brings you to their reality of things. It promotes understanding between you and your significant other. As you know, different languages are also connected to diverse perspectives of the world we live in. By speaking their words, you put yourself in their shoes for a minute.
At the very least, you’ll know that we’ve got your backs while you tackle all your target languages.