Top 10 science-backed reasons to learn a second language

Woman looking at laptop, wearing headphones and holding book.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Looking for reasons to learn a second language? Well, how about this one: research over the years has found learning a second language provides several emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal benefits. 

The best part? Learning a second language has become easier than ever. Today, dozens of free and paid apps and software programs are available to teach you any language of your choice. And you can easily find something that suits your learning style. If you like 1-on-1 lessons, you can learn through some of the best online tutoring services. Or if you prefer self-paced learning, you can turn to the best online learning platforms to help you out.

For anyone who still needs to be convinced to take the leap, here are our top ten science-backed reasons to learn a second language...

 1. Improve your concentration 

Studies conducted on the effects of language learning on cognitive functioning show that bilinguals (people who speak two languages) perform better on attention tests and demonstrate an improved ability to focus on the task at hand. 

Some theories suggest this happens because bilinguals have to constantly juggle two languages and learn how to efficiently switch between them. This wires their brain to filter information effectively, ignore incoming distractions, and concentrate better on what matters most at the moment. 

2. Make better decisions

A series of experiments conducted in 2018 found that thinking in a second language can help us make more rational decisions. “Using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases," wrote the team who led the study. 

“When people use a foreign language, their decisions tend to be less biased, more analytic, more systematic, because the foreign language provides psychological distance,” the study’s lead author adds. 

This suggests when you are thinking in a foreign language, you can't rely on automatic thought processes. You are forced to be more deliberate, which gives you more time to think, analyze, and make better decisions.

Two women looking at post-its on glass wall

(Image credit: Getty Images)

 3. Earn more money 

Who doesn't want to earn more money? Turns out, learning a new language can improve your career opportunities and help boost your earnings. A report by The Guardian suggests learning a new language can add between 10% and 15% to your current salary. “If you work for a big international firm, speaking a language immediately puts you in line for interesting work that otherwise wouldn't come your way,” the report adds. 

Learning a new language can open doors for you. If you speak more than one language, you can upskill yourself and ask for a raise, go on sponsored business trips or apply for jobs in international markets. The more languages you know, the more in-demand you will be. 

Some people build their entire careers around their knowledge of languages. For example, you can also pick up work as a translator, a language teacher, or a foreign film consultant just because you know a second language. 

4.  Connect with more people

Many people choose to learn a new language to effectively communicate with their international friends, family members living abroad, or simply to meet new people when they travel.

Learning the language of the country you intend to visit can help you immerse yourself in their culture and truly understand their way of living. Think about it: It can be frustrating and often challenging for local residents to translate everything in your language because you don't understand the written instructions. This also makes it difficult to make friends and have casual conversations with locals and tourists visiting the same place as you. 

Two women chatting in city looking at map

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You can solve all these problems by learning a second language. It may be unrealistic to be fluent in all the languages if you are a frequent traveler, but even knowing the basic phrases and having conversational knowledge can help.

5. Improve your confidence

Just like it's difficult for locals to translate everything for you, it can be challenging for you as a tourist or a temporary visitor to ask for help for every little thing. Struggling to understand the street signs, being unable to follow directions, and being unaware of the local norms can undermine your confidence and put you in awkward situations.

That's why language experts and frequent travelers recommend learning the local language before embarking on a long visit to any country. If you plan on staying somewhere for more than a month, you will obviously need to communicate with local residents, and knowing their language can help you appear more confident in such conversations.

This confidence can also help you negotiate better, save money, and build positive relationships.

6. Be more creative

Multiple studies over the years have shown that bilinguals tend to be more creative (and hence better problem-solvers) than people who speak only one language. Research suggests this difference is apparent in children as young as 7-month olds

Child painting rainbow

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Knowing a new language can allow you to develop new experiences, build new thought processes, consider new perspectives, and think of unique solutions, Joseph Cardillo, Ph.D., a mental health professional and psychology author wrote in Psychology Today “By re-discovering the play and natural diversity in language, you will be exercising your own creative flow,” he adds.

7. Improve your health

People are often surprised when they understand that learning a new language can improve your brain health. Research over the years has shown that learning a new language may delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms. One study reported that “people who spoke two languages did not develop dementia until 4.5 years later than those who were monolingual.”

“Speaking more than one language is thought to lead to better development of the areas of the brain that handle executive functions and attention tasks, which may help protect from the onset of dementia,” Suvarna Alladi a neurologist working on memory disorders was quoted saying in Medical News Today

“Multilingual people are able to compensate for AD-related tissue loss by accessing alternative networks or other brain regions for memory processing,” Natalie Phillips, a professor of psychology at Concordia University was quoted saying in a similar report.

8. Improve your cognitive function

Scientists often compare our brain structure to physical muscles. This is because our brain works with a “use it or lose it” mechanism. Just like our muscles become stronger with exercise and weaken with inactivity, the more you engage your brain, the better your cognitive function. It’s similar to how bicycles rust when they are not in use.

How to prevent this “brain rust”? By learning a new language.  Learning a second language is a complex cognitive process that requires various areas of your brain to work together.  This strengthens neural connections and improves the overall cognitive function.

9. Be more productive

How many times have you found yourself scrolling through social media simply because you don't have anything else to do? Learning a new language is such a complex and time-consuming process that it keeps you on your toes. Simply speaking, it gives you something to do when you are bored.  

If you tend to waste a lot of time browsing on your phone or watching Netflix, learning a new language can be a great substitute to spend your time more productively. Like we already discussed, it improves your brain function and opens up professional opportunities while keeping you productive when you don’t have much to do. So ditch your Twitter app and install Duolingo instead.

Woman concentrating on computer screen

(Image credit: Getty Images)

10.  It's fun!

Sometimes you don't need a reason to learn a second language. Sometimes you do it just because it's fun. Most language learning apps and software programs today offer interactive lessons. You can switch between visual lessons, audio clips, text-based language tests, and traditional textbook learning. You can also start learning a lesson with a friend and share progress to inculcate a sense of friendly competition.

Learning a second language offers impressive benefits while being a great source of productive entertainment.  Whether you are a high school student learning a new language for good grades or an industry professional looking to pivot their career,  learning a new language is an easily (and freely) available tool with the power to change your life.

Not sure where to get started? We have guides to the best learn Spanish online courses, along with a round-up of the best learn French online apps and websites. Or, if you're feeling more adventurous, check out our guides to the best ASL online courses and the most useful coding languages to learn in 2021.

Sakshi Udavant is a freelance writer and journalist, who covers everything from wellness to the latest tech trends. She regularly writes comparison articles and features for Top Ten Reviews, helping readers pick between competitor brands.