Why EVERYONE Should Probably Learn a Second Language

Your future self (and brain) will thank you.

Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” — Nelson Mandela

Mywife is Korean. However, she was born in Alabama and went to college at UGA, so the fact that she used to have a pretty heavy southern accent probably confused a lot of people.

On the other hand, her parents are both Korean-born, and while her mom has made significant strides in being able to speak English fluently, there are still a few gaps in communication whenever we connect for a family get-together.

While I don’t feel that it has truly hurt my ability to convey to them how much I love their daughter, there is a sense of me wishing I had the chance to really get to know them better and truly talk about all the dreams and aspirations Lena and I have together.

For that reason, I made the decision to start learning Korean about two years ago when the pandemic began.

To say it has been a bit of a slow burn is an understatement, as the language is a bit complicated in its own way but also makes sense and is intuitive in other ways.

When I first started on this journey, I wasn’t sure how long I was going to continue down this path, but now that I’m over two years in, I don’t see myself giving it up anytime soon.

I’ve found a number of great benefits to learning a second language and think others should do so to experience them as well.

It gives you more appreciation for other cultures of the world

This is a byproduct of learning the language and not something that I was considering when I first made this decision, but it has been a much appreciated pleasant surprise.

As shared, my impetus for learning the language was solely to communicate with my in-laws on a much more intimate level.

For anyone who has ever gone down the path to learning another language, you’ll know that one of the most suggested ways to really understand it and make learning a bit more fun is to immerse oneself in the culture by watching various shows in that language.

For me, this resulted in my wife and me watching a number of different Korean movies and shows that we may not have watched otherwise.

Funny enough, as we began to watch these shows and realize how great Korean storytelling is, I completely forgot about my original reason and became extremely fascinated at all the different lessons I was learning as a result of consistently watching movies that were set in Korean culture.

I found myself beginning to recognize the themes of respect for parents and elders in general. I saw the importance of honoring those who came before and how what you do today is a reflection of not just you but your entire family.

I truly started to understand the concept of family honor as it relates to Korean households and how the pressure to live a safe professional life is something that many Americanized Korean kids struggle with in regards to explaining their own dreams to their parents.

I began to gain a much better understanding of my wife’s relationship with her parents, as she went against their wishes for a “safe” career. I also began to better understand the dynamics of how this still plays out today in their relationship.

For me, it gave me a much better appreciation of the Korean culture as a whole, as well as helped me be a better husband to my wife by understanding how this affected her life growing up, as well as her current relationship with her parents today.

It’ll earn respect for you from that group of people

Not that you necessarily need to earn the respect of a different group of people, but for me, it’s important that my wife’s parents understand that I am willing to do whatever it takes to ensure we have the best relationship possible.

If that means spending years learning another language that I will primarily use in communication with them, then so be it.

For me, it gives me the opportunity to show that I am not just a typical “selfish” American who tends to think the world revolves around us and English.

Instead, I want to be someone who is more open-minded and understands that there are so many different ways to look at the world other than through the eyes of our indoctrinated western culture.

Not that the western culture is bad, but there is something to be said to be able to understand the foundation from which other groups of people are coming by diving deeper into their world.

There are few better ways to do this than to immerse oneself in the language and history of another group of people to earn their respect and help them open up to you as someone they can trust.

It seems silly but due to the nature of how Americans are often seen as selfish and self-centered in our own culture, whenever we demonstrate this isn’t the case through something as simple as learning the language of another group of people, we have a greater chance of being able to connect with those people on a deeper level.

My wife and I love to travel and continue to plan to do so on an extensive level, and as we look to open our horizons, Korea may be a possible destination for us to live in the future.

For me, there are few other things I could do to lay a better foundation for that possibility and increase my chances of success in that culture other than learning their language and showing that I want to be a part of their world, as opposed to expecting them to become a part of mine.

It’ll help your brain stay lithe and sharp

The first two reasons were based on my personal desire to show my wife and her parents how much I loved her and plan for various possibilities in our future of living abroad, while this third reason is a consequential byproduct of that decision that is readily accepted.

As we age, there is the fear for many that our cognitive functions will decline naturally and we are at increased risk of various memory diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The reality is that this is very much true and something that we all need to take into consideration as we all increase in our age.

The reasoning behind this has to do with a number of different factors, but many researchers think it is related to the shrinkage of our white matter over time, which in turn leads to slower processing and cognitive functions.

There are a number of different ways to prevent this and help your brain keep its overall sharpness, and one of those top ways is by learning a new language.

The reason for this is that your brain is an organ very similar to the rest of the organs in your body.

Use it a lot and it’ll stay sharp and quick to respond. Don’t use it or push it that much, and it’ll begin to go on autopilot and lose its ability to do high-level processes because they just weren’t needed.

This is one of the reasons that it has been suggested that you should not overly use spell check or map apps, as they take away your brain’s natural ability to have to process these thoughts on a daily basis.

By making your brain have to correctly spell the word “sobriety” (the i before e throws me off all…the…time) and remember how to get to that one Home Depot near you that you only go to once a quarter, you’ll force your brain to create new synapses and use extra parts that are dormant unless called upon.

This keeps you sharp and ready to learn new things, while also helping you retain old information as well.

Learning a new language helps do this by working these different parts consistently and keeping your brain pushing itself to stay sharp because it knows it is going to be needed on a regular basis.

Therefore, by consistently pushing our brains to exercise daily by learning a new language, we are keeping it strong and continuing to grow much as daily exercising does for our muscles.

And while I can’t promise you still won’t forget that left turn on that quarterly trip to Home Depot from time to time, there’s no doubt by learning a second language, you’ll put yourself in a much better position to be able to say “Oh sh*t!” in more than just one language when you realize you did.