As Malaysians, we’re blessed with the ability to speak at least two languages — Bahasa Melayu and English — and our everyday speech is often peppered with phrases from both of these languages.
However, the world is bigger than our small but mighty country, so it pays to be trilingual or even quadrilingual. In this article, we elaborate on the 7 main things you can do when you master a foreign language:
#1. Travel the world with ease
Imagine arriving in Tokyo all excited to experience the eagerly awaited cherry blossom season. You reach into your pocket for your phone to get directions — but to your horror, the battery is dead. Panicking, you look in your bag for your phrasebook but it’s nowhere to be seen.
There’s no other option but to ask a passerby for help, but your pitiful mastery of Japanese means both you and the kind stranger cannot understand each other. This leaves you lost and helpless.
Newsflash: Travelling isn’t just about taking in the sights and posing for photos in front of landmarks — it’s about experiencing the country’s culture and people. So it is wise to pick up the language of your chosen destination a few weeks before your visit. Don’t worry about achieving fluency in such a short time, the key is to master everyday phrases that will help you throughout your travels. Who knows, a simple conversation could lead you to our second point…
#2. Make friends all around the world
Speaking another language opens up a new world of opportunities for you and this includes the possibility of making new friends all around the world. Always wanted to converse in Korean with other Kpop fans? You’ll be able to say more than ‘annyeonghaseyo’ to your newfound pals once you dedicate yourself to learning the language!
Closer to home, befriending classmates who speak a different tongue will also be easier when you share the same lingo as it will allow you to form a deeper bond with them that will result in a more meaningful relationship. Soon, defaulting to the lingua franca of English or Bahasa Melayu will be a thing of the past since you’ll be able to chatter away in Mandarin or Tamil as well.
#3. Increase employment potential
More and more companies these days are seeking employees who are able to converse in a range of different languages so that they can conquer the global market.
To banish that crestfallen feeling you get after seeing a job listing which requires proficiency in a language you can’t speak, why not have a go at learning it? Regardless if the language is French, Spanish, Mandarin or Thai, being bilingual (or even trilingual!) will greatly increase your employability.
#4. Improve your memory
There’s a reason why people say learning a new language is a mental workout. When you wrap your head around language rules and acquire new vocabulary, these actions exercise your brain and boost your memorisation skills. The more you exercise your brain with these everyday vocabulary challenges, the better it works and the brainier you get.
On top of that, according to language teacher and researcher Miguel Á. Muñoz of the University of Kansas, a bilingual brain is also skilled at multi-tasking and sustained attention because it has had lots of practice switching between 2 different languages.
#5. Enjoy books and entertainment in its original language
Fancy being able to watch your favourite anime without having to resort to subtitles or even worse, dubbing? That will soon be possible when you pledge to learn the language!
Reading Victor Hugo’s epic Les Misérables will definitely be more fulfilling when enjoyed in the original French text while Haruki Murakami’s magnificent Kafka on the Shore will retain the nuances that the original Japanese text has, making for a better reading experience.
Aside from shows and books, listening to foreign music will be so much better when you actually understand the lyrics. Cue romantic Spanish songs!
#6. Understand inside jokes
Me: I’m so glad to have you as my moon moon oil
Friend: Your what?
Me: My 朋友
If you can read and write in both English and Mandarin, the joke above would have you chuckling. Determined to figure out the hilarious pun? Well, you’ll just have to pick up Mandarin then!
That’s right, cracking jokes is so much more fun when you have a multitude of languages to play with. The ability to identify a phrase to craft it into a pun makes for smarter, funnier jokes — but just make sure you’re saying it right and you don’t offend anyone. The last thing you would want is to try and impress someone by cracking a joke in their language only for it to backfire because you make no sense. *cringe*
#7. Become more open-minded
Aside from being able to make new friends or have a simple conversation with people you normally wouldn’t be able to talk to because of language barriers, learning a new language will also make you more open-minded as you will gain a deeper understanding about another culture.
From learning how to pronounce different foods in French to discovering the correct way to address people in Japanese, there’s no doubt that taking the time to learn a foreign language will help you see things from a different perspective and will broaden your worldview.
Have these benefits inspired you to learn a new language? If it has, you’re ready to take on the ever-changing world with your new abilities! Just remember not to worry if you feel like you don’t have enough time to master a language — take it slow and go at your own pace. To help you get started, you can try free language sites and apps such as Duolingo, Learn French, Learn Cantonese and more.