Benefits of Using a Foreign Language
You’ve probably heard about the cognitive benefits of learning a second language, but I recently used a foreign language in Germany and experienced three specific benefits. The experience was exciting. You don’t have to be fluent in the second language to reap the same benefits. Even though I’m not fluent in German, I exercised my skills in using context to understand meaning and thinking fast and gained understanding of what non-native speakers of English go through when communicating with native speakers of English.
I didn’t understand every word spoken to me, so I used body language and social context to help me understand. For example, while I was waiting for a train, a man pointed at my jacket and said, “Deine Jacke ist günstig.” I thought, My jacket is what? I’d never heard the word günstig.
Given his friendly tone, I guessed he was giving a compliment or saying my jacket’s sash was untied. I said thank you and tied the sash, which seemed to satisfy him because he didn’t say anything else or look confused. Being mindful of body language and social context could help me understand others in the United States whenever it’s hard to hear them.
Translating takes time, so I rehearsed sentences I needed to say before I had to say them. However, a few times I had to say something immediately in response to a problem. As hard as that was, I realized it was the best way to make myself more comfortable using German. Also, the experience may help me think on my feet faster in general.
Understanding Non-Native Speakers of English
I can apply my experience in using a foreign language to my interactions with non-native speakers of English. I’m now more aware of how much my body language and tone help them understand me and how they need more time to translate what I say and formulate responses to it. I have to encourage them to speak as much as they can to help them learn English, even if it’s just small talk.
I experienced cognitive and interpersonal communication benefits from using a foreign language, and I hope all of you get or have had the chance to reap the same benefits. The skills involved are useful in the foreign culture and in your home culture. I plan to continue studying German so that I can continue exercising these skills.
Photo: I took this photo of Heidelberg Castle.
About Darla Word
I'm a writing tutor and editor from Michigan. My favorite subject to write about is writing because making better writers is my calling. I also enjoy reading, singing, swimming, and cardmaking.