Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Other Benefits to Learning a Foreign Language

For many of you who know me or follow my posts, you know that I have a personal goal of being fluent in French by 2018. I took 3 years of French in high school, and did not do much with it afterwards, save for talking in my head with French phrases here and there. I was looking for a mental challenge when I decided I would return to the language about 2 years ago.


It's going pretty well. Instead of spending every day doing a little bit, I actually do a large chunk on the weekends. For some reason my brain assimilates information better this way. My sister (who is fluent in French, and has two authentic French French tutors herself), tutors me over Voxer or in person. I have also found some other excellent sources to help me in this journey. 

It has been a very good challenge for me, but I have learned a few other advantages to this process, that I wanted to share with you. 

1. It's good for your health
 Learning something new is difficult, which means our brains have to work extra hard. So what's the reward then? Studies have shown that people who learn a second language can switch between tasks more easily, can listen better, have better concentration, and have better memory. And the healthier our minds are, the healthier everything else will be.  That's just to name a few- there are voluminous articles that say much more about this. I won't repeat them here, but Google a few, and you will be impressed! 

2. You widen your perspective on the world
 As I was learning new words and phrases, I started to recognize many things that the French did differently than Americans. For example, for breakfast and lunch, you have petite dejeuner and dejeuner. Hmmm, they call breakfast "little lunch"- what is behind that, I wondered? Well, in French culture, they aren't big on breakfast. Perhaps a baguette with butter, jam, or cheese, and some coffee, and you're good to go. No sausage, eggs and heavy protein. That's because lunch is the smorgasbord of the day, complete with an appetizer, a main course, cheese, and dessert. And wine of course.  It Most people take 2 hours for lunch from work, and kids go home to eat lunch with their families. 

The point is- you start to realize there are more (or even better) ways to do things in life. Every culture has it's strengths and weaknesses, but learning about different ways to do things can give us ideas on how to change things up in our own lives for the better. 

I am actually now a little obsessed about learning about different cultures, namely the French. I find it so incredibly fascinating, and love implementing some of their habits into my own life. I have read French books on parenting, eating and watch hundreds of videos on what they do in France, and have tried to implement many of them into my own life. Which leads me to my next point...

3. You gain appreciation for your own culture
 I also realized that as I tried to implement some of the French habits into my own life, I just didn't have the value for what the French were trying to do. For example, food is extremely important to the French. Not just the food itself, but the process of buying it, preparing it, and eating it with other people. And in general they have a slower pace of life.  I tried to fully embrace this concept, but I learned it takes A LOT of time. Time that I was not willing to spend. I had things to do, places to be. I realized that deep down in my American DNA, convenience simply was more important to me most of the time. And I have found this mostly true with Americans in general. We love convenience- we have a goal of getting the most bang for our bucks, and that includes our schedules.

 So in one hand I held the choice of slower paced life, spending time and money choosing the best of the best ingredients for a recipe that may take an hour, and in the other hand getting to the grocery store, getting out with the best deals, and whipping up a 15 minute meal. In the end, I found I would rather have the convenience. This meant more time doing fun things with my family, blogging, or however else I decided to spend my time. To my pleasure, I have found ways to have my cake and eat it too, but when the rubber meets the road, I like convenience, and I am glad my culture is like that too.

4. You gain compassion
 It is easy as an adult to take certain skills for granted. For example, driving a car, knowing how to read, or how to use certain appliances. When you learn a new language, you are thrust into the "i don't know how to do anything" realm, and its a satisfyingly humbling experience. You stumble over words, sometimes use curse words in place of pronouns, and sound, well, dumb.

 This helps us have compassion for others who are learning new things. I am currently teaching my 6 year old to read and write. Because I'm in the middle of learning a language myself, I am completely aware of the endless grammar rules and the way it can feel confusing. Or if I am in the pool with my 4 year old- when he panics, I don't say "Come on! Get it together! It's just water!" Being in the vulnerable position of being a student serves as a  reminder that new things are a little scary and require some hand holding.

5. It is a good example for your kids
 I believe it is important to always be learning something. I don't care if its about gardening, or politics, or ballet; but I think it is incredibly important to always be challenging yourself and to be a student of life. I want my children to see that the awkward stage of not knowing everything is not just for children, but for adults too. This will help them embrace the process of learning, and not just get through high school and maybe college. 

 The learning process is played out right in front of their eyes. What will you do when you stumble? What about when you have a ballet recital? What about when you fall on your face? Will you berate yourself? Give up? If you demonstrate how to handle challenges, frustration, and failure with grace, your kids will learn to also. I personally want my kids to see that life beyond childhood is full of the unknown and learning.

 It also shows them that your life does not revolve around them. As a parent, you probably spend a significant time educating them, driving them to sports, and/or supplying them with stepping stones so they can have necessary life skills. We desire to love our children, but it's important to understand that you don't exist to serve them all the time. You are your own individual with passions and desires. The result is two-fold- you get some of your needs met, and they have a platform to learn selflessness by celebrating you as a separate person.

6. You can travel and have more experiences
 Here's the obvious one- I can go to France and speak French! Of course I could go to France and probably have a good time speaking English in many of the tourist spots, but speaking the native language opens up so many more opportunities! Perhaps I can go to a remote village where nobody speaks English! I could actually spend time with the French people and get to know them better, and have some experiences off the beaten path. 

In conclusion, even if you have never even thought about learning another language, its never too late and you will reap many benefits! 

Do you know any foreign languages? 

What has been your experience in learning a new skill?


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