The benefits of learning a language
There are many benefits to knowing more than one language. For example, it improves creativity.
Why is foreign language study important at the university level?
It has cognitive and emotional benefits. One of these benefits is that language learning improves tolerance:
- It opens people’s eyes to a way of doing things in a way that’s different from their own, which is called “cultural competence.”
- It improves also the comfort level of a person when dealing with unfamiliar situations, or “tolerance of ambiguity.”
Cultural competence is key to thriving in our increasingly globalized world.
Psychologist Robert Sternberg’s research on intelligence describes different types of intelligence and how they are related to adult language learning. What he refers to as “practical intelligence” is similar to social intelligence, where it helps learning different ways of communication in different environments and societies.
Language learning inevitably involves learning about different cultures. Students pick up clues about the culture both in language classes and through meaningful immersion experiences.
Researchers Hanh Thi Nguyen and Guy Kellogg have shown that when students learn another language, they develop new ways of understanding culture through analyzing cultural stereotypes. They explain that “learning a second language involves the acquisition not only of linguistic forms but also ways of thinking and behaving.”
Dealing with the unknown
The second way that adult language learning increases tolerance is related to the comfort level of a person when dealing with “tolerance of ambiguity.”
Motivation, anxiety and beliefs indicate that language learning improves people’s tolerance of ambiguity, especially when more than one foreign language is involved.
Conversations in a foreign language will inevitably involve unknown words. Those with a high tolerance of ambiguity would feel comfortable maintaining the conversation despite the unfamiliar words involved.
What changes with this understanding
A high tolerance of ambiguity brings many advantages. It helps students become less anxious in social interactions and in subsequent language learning experiences. The more experience a person has with language learning, the more comfortable the person gets with this ambiguity.
And that’s not all.
Individuals with higher levels of tolerance of ambiguity have also been found to be more entrepreneurial (i.e., are more optimistic, innovative and don’t mind taking risks).
More in: World Economic Forum