As communicators, we’re always looking for new ways to improve the way we write, speak and, well, communicate.  Maybe we follow writing blogs to find tips or even watch YouTube videos on how to improve our public speaking. One thing that never seems to be talked about is how learning a second language opens a whole new window of opportunity to learn how other people in this big ol’ world are communicating and what we can take away from that.  Here are my top four takeaways

1. Things Don’t Always Translate Word for Word

More often than not, phrases and sentences aren’t going to translate perfectly.  You can’t read through a sentence, translating it word for word and expecting the combination to make sense at the end.  You learn to look at the entire context of a phrase or sentence and make the connection to its equivalent in your native language.  Being able to search for and find contextual connections in a second language makes it easier to do the same in your first.

2. It Takes Courage to Use It

You spend all this time studying and learning new vocabulary and verb tenses and conjugations,language learning, communication, culture, people and you feel like you have a pretty good grasp on this thing.  Then you’re faced with actually having to use it with a native speaker.  For whatever reason, even the most prepared individuals will tell you how nervous they were for this moment.  You hope that you’ll sound fluent enough and that you’ll be able to remember all of those verb tenses and adjective agreements.  It’s nerve-racking because we fear messing up.  It forces you to get out there and practice what you’ve learned and make mistakes while doing it.   What better way to learn? 

3. It Offers a New Way of Looking at Your Own Language

When you look at language from the same vantage point for your entire life, you miss out on other ways you could be looking at it to make your writing and speaking crisper and sharper.  For instance, American English speakers all too often leave those dangling prepositions at the ends of their sentences.  In many romance languages, for example, dangling prepositions don’t exist because they just don’t fit anywhere else but their proper place.  Look at “What street do you live on?” vs. “On what street do you live?”  Training yourself similarly to that “romantic way” will make you conscious to those little details in English, too.

4. It Teaches Culture & People

Learning a language is learning an entire rhetorical culture that opens the door into what its people are like.  You can find out if this group or that group might tend to be more casual or formal in conversation.  Maybe they have six words that all mean “happy,” but which one do the locals use?  They know the different connotations, and that, too, will give insight to what kind of words are going to speak to them when being addressed.  Being forced to choose the right word with the right connotation, even though they all mean “happy” to us, is another way to practice making sure that how we say thingstakes precedent to what we are saying

In short, learning a new language forces you to take a closer look at the way you use your native one.  You learn different contexts and connotations and how to use the right word at the right time.  Sounds familiar, right?  Looking into how other people around the world use their words to communicate their ideas teaches you yet another less talked about way to approach your own communications.  So if you’ve been contemplating whether or not to start those vocabulary lessons, do it!  There are even free apps like duolingo and Babbel to help you out!