Personal and Social Benefits of Learning a Second Language - Blog Image

Personal and Social Benefits of Learning a Second Language

Have you ever wondered what the personal and social benefits of learning a second language might be?

Learning languages is seen as a bit of a weird hobby in Australia.

As someone fluent in 2 languages, somewhat conversational in 2 more, and who ‘dabbles’ all the time in languages for fun (I think I have played in about another 10 languages 🙂 ), I am definitely considered an oddity.

However, for language learners around the world, the personal and social benefits of learning a second language are a huge drawcard.

In fact, when Babbel did a survey to find out why their app users were learning a language, 74% were learning for personal and social reasons.

Let’s have a look at the 5 Social Benefits and the 4 Personal Benefits of learning a second language that I could identify.


This post is the second of a series on Benefits of Learning a Second Language. Here are links to the other posts in the series:

  1. 35 Ways to Benefit from Learning a Second Language: Introduction
  2. Personal and Social Benefits of Learning a Second Language (this post)
  3. Cognitive Benefits of Learning a Second Language
  4. Psychological Benefits of Learning a Second Language
  5. Academic Benefits of Learning a Second Language
  6. Professional Benefits of Learning a Second Language
  7. Language Learning Benefits of Learning a Second Language

Social Benefits of Learning a Second Language

The most apparent benefit of learning a second language is that you can communicate with more people!

Now, that is hardly earth shattering – until you really start to drill down into a variety of life situations. All of a sudden, speaking a second language begins to look really cool.

#1 – Communicate More Easily When Travelling

Have you ever considered the benefits of learning a second language for travel?

Next time you decide to head to Mexico, or France, or Italy, how much more fun would it be if you were able to not only ask for a beer, but also stop and have a chat to the waiter, or even the locals at the bar?

I’ve always made it a habit to learn at least 4 basic sentences for any country I have visited:

Ask directions in another language.
Photo by You X Ventures

“Hi, my name is Cate.”

“I’m Australian.”

“I don’t speak much [local language].”

“Do you speak English?”

I figure the least I can do is master that much. It communicates respect to the person you are speaking to, shows that you have at least tried, and after the initial confusion, has made them smile.

Christen over at TravelWanderGrow.com found, if you’re travelling in a country like Greece where the language is in a different script, knowing the local language can really help you out!

And as Will Hatten from the Broke Backpacker notes, even just a rudimentary knowledge of a language can result in some offers of work for a starving (or not so starving) backpacker.

I’ve found that being able to have even just a basic conversation with the local citizens is great fun – and not bad for the ego either!

Often they are quite fascinated that I would take the time to learn their language, and as a result they stop and chat for some time.

In the case of Liz Carlson from YoungAdventuress.com, it can even result in a history lesson about about life in Spain under Franco and during the Spanish Civil War.

It’s amazing what doors just 5 minutes of effort can open!

#2 – Connect With Your Family Roots And Heritage

These days, many of us only have to trace back a generation or two to discover a connection to another country. In Australia, only 51% of the population has been born to two Australian born parents.

Over 300 language communities are represented in Australia. In Canada that number is 196, and in the USA 430 languages are spoken. And in every country I have ever visited, even though the numbers have not been as high, migrant and indigenous populations are present and bring linguistic diversity.

Old family photo
Learning a second language can give greater insight to our ancestry.
Photo by Thought Catalog

So, with that being said, it is hardly surprising that connecting with grandparents, or just understanding where they came from is one of the main reasons people have for wanting to learn a second language.

Just the other day I was reading about Michelle over at Intrepid Guide, who was motivated to learn Italian because of her Italian Nonno (Grandfather) – a journey that has taken her around the world, and inspired her to begin blogging.

#3 – Communicate More Deeply With A Family Member or Life Partner

Learning another language can connect families across generations.
Photo by Brett Jordan

With an increase in interracial and intercultural relationships, a new component has entered into family dynamics – the need to find a way to communicate with family members who perhaps do not speak your language.

Or perhaps they do, but you just want to demonstrate to them respect, love and acceptance.

In my own family, I have seen how much the Deaf members come alive when family chooses to learn Auslan and use it with them. It invites them into relationship.

When someone chooses to humble themselves enough to make mistakes as they learn a new language in order to build relationship – it makes the other person feel seen.

They know it takes a lot of commitment – time, energy, and discomfort. It generates a lot of goodwill, which covers a multitude of mistakes and cross-cultural gaffs.

#4 – Widen Your Social Network

One of the best social benefits of learning a second language in my mind is that immediately a whole new community of potential friendships open up. (Pick the extrovert!)

(Did you know that there is a linguistic theory – the Sapir-Whorf theory – which suggests that the language we use affects the way we think?)

If you want to find friends with new perspectives, it may work to your benefit to seek out those who speak a different language. In any case, coming from a different culture will definitely have given them a different outlook on life.

I hadn’t thought of this beforehand, but when I learned Dutch, all of a sudden I found a whole group of people who I really liked hanging around with!

Group of friends having fun hiking.
Finding new friends is a great side effect of learning a second language.
Photo by Felix Rostig

As an undiagnosed Aspie, I had always found social relationships very difficult to that point in life.

Living in Australia in a culture (and family!) heavily influenced by our British heritage of politesse and etiquette, I never really felt like I belonged.

I am far too blunt and tend to say what I think, which is not a character trait appreciated in a middle class Australian female!

Then I moved to the Netherlands… and I found my people. The Dutch, as with many Europeans, are far more likely to openly share opinions.

In fact it is seen as a positive cultural trait. At last – people who weren’t (as) offended by my bluntness!

I actually thought I was pretty unique, having this affinity for the Dutch culture that I didn’t have for my Australian culture, but I have since heard a few other people say similar things.

One example is Franka J. Haddley who writes about how learning English changed her life. She didn’t feel comfortable in her native Russian-speaking community.

Of course, you may be quite comfortable in your home culture, but it can still be quite fun to find a new group of people to communicate with.

It opens up new groups who share your hobbies, professional interests, political persuasion (or lack of!), faith, sporting interests – it’s a whole new world of fun!

#5 – Social Flexibility

In the next post in our series, we will be discussing how knowing a second language impacts something called ‘Cognitive Flexibility’.

Researchers have taken this concept of cognitive flexibility, and argued that it is not only helpful for solving cognitive tasks, but is essential for positive social interactions.

Social Flexibility looks like this.

When two people are working together to solve a problem, it is really helpful if both individuals can not only be aware of their own perspectives and values, but be able to put themselves in the other’s shoes and see things another way

Knowing more than one language develops skills that improve cooperation.
Photo by Kaleidico

Research found that when children who did well on a particular cognitive flexibility assessment were paired up, they were more cooperative than others in their social interactions.

This cooperation required the children to:

  • regulate their emotions in order to read the social cues of their environment
  • work out what the cues meant
  • then select and use appropriate social strategies for their interaction.

These skills are improved in individuals who are bilingual, so it seems that knowing a second language is likely to help develop skills that support positive social experiences.


Personal Benefits of Learning a Second Language

#6 – A Hobby – Learning for Fun!

Learning a Second Language can be a hobby!
Photo by Bannon Morrissy

Strange as it may seem, many people learn languages just as a hobby!

In the same way as some people enjoy jigsaw puzzles, crosswords or sudoku, others enjoy adding another language to their repertoire.

Usually there is some other perceived benefit as well, like making friends or any of the other benefits I have listed here.

But when it comes down to it, learning language can as much a hobby as quilting.

In the same way as you (well, maybe not you … but my mother!) might want to make a quilt as a gift, or for Christmas decorations, for some of us learning language is the hobby, and we just do different things with it.

#7 – Playing MMOs with other language speakers

Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs) are online games with hundreds or thousands of players using the same server.

Many games have servers in many countries, and with people who speak many languages.

Anecdotally, I have often heard from language learners that their motivation for learning was to be able to communicate more easily with team members for whom English was a second language.

Find new friends to play MMOs by learning a second language.
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM

Interestingly, MMOs have also been studied as a format for teaching second languages (pdf).

This is because they offer an immersion environment, where language is a tool to achieve goals and so it is thought that motivation may be higher for language students if lessons are presented in the context and format of an MMO.

#8 – Watching Foreign Films and TV Shows in the Original Language

Watch movies in their original language.
Photo by Charles Deluvio

For years we (in Australia at least) have been able to watch Bollywood, Japanese movies, French Cinema and obscure Egyption historical dramas on our “cultural” channel SBS late at night.

Now Netflix and other platforms have brought us K-Drama, Nordic Noir, Japanese Anime and a slew of other genres in a variety of other languages.

And those of us who know the source language of the program can tell you – the translation doesn’t always do it justice!

Watching these newly accessible programs in their original language adds a whole other layer to the experience, and is a motivation for many to learn another language.

#9 – Reading Books in the Original Language

Read books in their original language.
Photo by Angélica Echeverry

In the same way watching television in the original languages makes for a deeper and richer experience, reading books in their original language likewise adds to the authenticity of the experience.

Imagine reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy in Russian or Les Misérables by Victor Hugo in French.

Even more, it is inevitable as you learn a language that you will also learn about the underlying culture.

This new knowledge can open insights into the plot that you would never have seen reading the book from the paradigm of your home culture.

Conclusion

In following posts in this series we will consider the way that learning languages develops the brain, and provides academic and professionals benefits as well.

But while research investigates the more formal areas of cognitive and economic benefits, the personal and social benefits of learning a second language are far more important to most language learners.

It seems that, for most people, learning languages is just outright fun!

What about you? What personal or social benefits does learning a second language add to your life? Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments section below!


If you enjoyed this post on the Personal and Social Benefits of Learning a Second Language, here are links to the rest of the series on the Benefits of Learning a Second Language:

  1. 35 Ways To Benefit From Learning A Second Language – Introduction
  2. Personal and Social Benefits of Learning a Second Language (this post)
  3. Cognitive Benefits of Learning a Second Language
  4. Psychological Benefits of Learning a Second Language
  5. Academic Benefits of Learning a Second Language
  6. Professional Benefits of Learning a Second Language
  7. Language Learning Benefits of Learning a Second Language

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