There was a time when it was compulsory to take a GCSE in a modern foreign language (MFL), but unfortunately in the early 2000s MFLs were made an optional choice. As a result of this, the number of pupils taking GCSEs in French, Spanish, and German has been dropping year on year. This then means that fewer people are going on to study MFLs at university level, and we’re starting to see a shortage in MFL teachers, thus perpetuating the lack of interest in learning other languages.
Everyone else learns English, so why should we bother?
Many native English speakers don’t see the point in putting the effort into learning a second language because everyone else wants to speak our language. This is a really lazy attitude. Sure, a lot of people around the world are very keen to learn English, but that doesn’t mean that we should stop making the effort to learn a second language.
There are a number of great benefits to learning another language, and it’s never too late to learn...
1. Employers love it
The job market is incredibly competitive, so your best chance of getting hired is if you have an edge over the other candidates. In today’s global market, being able to speak a second language makes you an incredibly valuable asset to an employer as you can help to bridge the gap between countries, helping your employer to tap into new markets. Speaking a second language also demonstrates to an employer that you are open, diverse, flexible, intelligent, and empathetic to other cultures, which are all desirable skills that employers seek in their staff.
2. It makes you smarter
Learning a second language improves the functionality of your brain, improves your memory, and increases your attention span. Acquiring a new language challenges your brain to recognise new words, negotiate meaning, and communicate using different grammatical rules. This skill helps to boost your ability to solve problems and absorb new information, thus helping to make you smarter.
3. It makes you better at multitasking
Multitasking is stressful for many people, and both tasks tend to suffer as a result. Bilingual people are skilled at switching between two different systems of communication; so ‘juggling’ languages in this way typically leads to a better ability to multitask in other areas of life too. A study carried out by Pennsylvania State University asked participants to use a driving simulator whilst doing separate tasks at the same time, and it was found that those who spoke more than one language typically made fewer mistakes than their monolingual counterparts.
4. It improves your English skills
When was the last time you stopped to think about the grammar of the English language? Unless you’re studying English at university it’s probably been quite some time since you considered the structure of the language that you speak every day. Learning a second language focuses your attention on the grammatical rules and constructions, which in turn gives you a new insight into English and can help you to improve the way you communicate in your mother tongue too.
5. It improves your overall academic performance
Learning an additional language sharpens your cognitive skills, not just in terms of taking on a new system of communication, but also in other subjects. Studies have shown that children who learn a second language at school tend to perform better across the board than children who are not taught a second language. It’s never too late to benefit from this enhanced academic function, so why not use your elective modules to study a modern foreign language and potentially enhance your overall degree performance?
6. It staves off dementia and Alzheimer's
Your brain has muscle-like qualities in that it grows and flourishes with regular use. Learning a second language is certainly a great workout for your brain! The acquisition of a second language helps to strengthen your brain’s function, and several studies have found that multilingual adults are more likely to experience the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at a later age than their monolingual counterparts; 75 and 71 years of age respectively.
7. It gives you a better understanding of the world
Learning a new language not only gives you a new way to communicate with people, it also gives you a better understanding of different cultures across the world. Each different culture has its own music, literature, media, history etc and having an understanding of a particular language opens up these new things to you, giving you insight and understanding of different cultures. For example, if you were to learn to speak Portuguese you would be able to learn more about the culture and way of life in both Portugal and Brazil, among several other countries who also speak the language.
8. It helps you to travel
If you’re planning on backpacking around Europe, South America, or Asia, it can help to understand the language of some of the places you’ll be visiting. The ability to say even a few key phrases in the native language of the country you are visiting will enrich the experience for you. It’s true that most people in larger cities speak English fairly well, but if you want to get off the beaten track in Cuba or Mexico, knowing some Spanish will help you to communicate with the locals, make friends, and find your way around.
9. It increases your confidence
Mastering any new skill is sure to boost your confidence; whether it’s learning to code, learning how to crochet, honing your baking skills, or passing your driving test. Learning a new language is no different. In fact, it’s probably one of the most important skills you can master. Having the knowledge and ability to communicate with a whole new set of people will fill you with pride, and the more you use this skill to speak to fluent speakers of that language, the more confident you will be in using your new skill. This confidence then transfers to other areas of your life; if you can master a second language, you can pretty much take on the world!
Modern Foreign Languages are no longer compulsory at GCSE level, but learning one later in life can still bring a number of great benefits. Whether you opt for French, German, Spanish, or even Russian, knowing a second (or third!) language will help you get ahead in life.