Robin MacPherson is a good friend of mine as well as an amazing language learner and human being. He wrote a very interesting piece for my blog on how languages have changed his life, and how they can change your life as well. In this article you will also find a video of his incredible journey into life and languages and a couple of cool things we did together when we met in France. Enjoy and share the love around!
To motivate people to learn foreign languages, I love helping them understand how doing so can enrich their lives enormously. So in this article, let’s take a look at five ways that learning a foreign language can improve YOUR life as you LIVE THE LANGUAGE!
1 – Guilt-free pleasure
It feels great when you’ve had a productive day and feel like you used your time wisely, or accomplished something. Conversely, we often feel a little guilty about spending time on certain hobbies or doing things we enjoy, rather than doing something that is perceived to be productive.
Once you reach a certain stage on the beautiful journey of learning a new language, many of the things that you once felt guilty about spending time on have just the opposite effect! Suddenly, watching a film in French or diving into a Spanish novel are not only enjoyable, but also instrumentally productive learning activities.
You no longer have to feel guilty about taking pleasurable time for yourself when you do it in a foreign language! My days are jam-packed full of pleasurable activities in various languages, and I don’t feel guilty about any of them!
2 – A new, higher level of enjoyment
One of the most beautiful and unique things about having language learning as a hobby is that you reach a certain tipping point, where that hobby becomes a vehicle for all of your other hobbies! Do you enjoy reading books on personal development, nutrition, or history? Watching documentaries? Do you love getting lost in a great novel on the weekend? Well now, you can enjoy all of these wonderful activities in your foreign language(s)!
Furthermore, you will see that this actually heightens the enjoyment you already experienced while doing all of these activities. There’s a certain magic that occurs, a great sense of achievement and boosted excitement when you’re doing things in your foreign language(s). So the enjoyment you get from watching a great film is magnified and multiplied by the additional pleasure you get from doing it in Japanese, for example!
3 – Communication gems around every corner
This may impact you differently depending on where you live, but you just never know when you will come across a speaker of your foreign language. It can be so magical to see the joy on a person’s face, and the warmth in their hearts when they meet a fellow speaker of their native language in a foreign land. It’s like finding a long-lost relative that you never knew, and this linguistic connection you share overcomes all other boundaries. Sometimes this results in a short but meaningful and energetic exchange, and sometimes you immediately find yourself with a new friend, travel companion, or host in your chosen country! Regardless of the outcome, you will definitely have made their day, one they will remember, and you’ll be skipping home with a smile on your face (maybe the last part is just me).
On top of this, you hear the most hilarious things when people believe that no one else in the room can understand what they’re saying. I remember (mostly unsuccessfully) trying to hold back the tears of laughter while sitting in a café in Charlotte, North Carolina, as I overheard 15 golden minutes of a Latin American couple arguing in Spanish. Upon leaving the café, I overheard the Congolese owner unleashing a barrage of beautifully strung-together insults on his supplier who had apparently been very late, yet again, with the delivery.
I smiled all the way home, playing back the “best bits” in my mind, feeling like I’d won the lottery (and a secret agent eves dropping on a special assignment!).
The pinnacle of my first trip to France after having learned French. I dared to stay with a local via couchsurfing, and it blossomed into some great friendships that I still cherish to this day.
4 – Better travel
Your language skills will improve the travel experiences available to you in a whole multitude of ways, some more obvious than others.
That wonderful excitement for life that begins to build as soon as you’ve booked tickets for your next holiday becomes an ever-present part of life! You’re continually excited about your next chance to “strut your stuff” with the locals on the streets of your chosen country.
The trips you take may take on a whole new character as well. As you make local friends in your favourite destination(s), you may find yourself being invited to stay with friends for free, engage in house swaps, or you may simply feel brave enough to try other modern avenues such as Air BnB where in many places, listings for beautiful apartments are often in the native language. If four travellers write to Giovanni in English about renting his very popular, water-front apartment on conflicting dates, and you write to him in his native Italian, you can bet your money that he’ll be picking you as his guest.
Once in the country, speaking the local language truly can entirely change the experiences that are available to you. You’ll have more confidence in just about everything you do while on location, and you will cherish each moment so much more after all that hard work and preparation.
It’s no myth that you will sometimes receive discounts or things entirely free of charge, particularly in places where it is less-common for foreigners to speak the language. I managed to get myself basically adopted as the “grandson” of a lady who owned a bento shop in Fukuoka, Japan. This, amongst other things, earned me a nice, loud “サービス!” (saabisu [service]) with a big smile as she handed me a free side dish with my daily bento box. I knew that I had secured a free pain suisse at my favorite Parisian bakery as I had the owner in tears with a funny story about the time when I thought my old boss’s favorite swear word was an employee’s name because he used the word so often when addressing the staff.
Sitting on a busy train surrounded by conversations in your beloved foreign language can be total bliss. Seeing the relieved (and impressed) look on your waiter’s face as you confidently navigate his culinary world in his language is a warming indulgence that never gets old.
5 – Increased work opportunities
Another very desirable advantage of acquiring foreign language skills of course lies in your professional life. In some cases, that foreign language in itself might land you a job! But more often than not, it’s the complimentary aspect of having that language which may give you the edge over other candidates, showing adaptability and versatility. These additional skills may merit a slightly higher salary, in addition to of course opening up a whole new world of opportunities available to you in the country where the language is spoken.
I have worked as an interpreter and a barista in Japan. I was hired as a French customer service worker (despite not being French) for Expedia France in Lisbon, Portugal. I was an International Public Relations writer for a German Fashion Start-up in Hamburg, Germany, and later started my own company, Polylingual Solutions, all thanks to my language skills and the experiences they have offered me.
To better illustrate and share with you the ways that foreign languages can enrich your lives, Luca Lampariello and I have put together a new video series, available at my youtube channel here:
You may also enjoy my documentary that I created almost 3 years ago, which shows many ways that my Japanese language skills gave me the very rare opportunity to integrate into Japanese society, experiencing the culture as an accepted person, loved by the locals, and not as a typical, distant tourist:
I hope this article inspires you to keep going with your language studies, and I would love to hear from you in the comments with your own thoughts and experiences. I look forward to hearing from you!
Written by Robin MacPherson