It’s long been argued being bilingual provides a leg up in life, and even anecdotal evidence suggests that is true. For example, individuals who speak more than one language are often sought after for higher paying jobs. However, recent studies indicate there are previously unrecognized benefits to learning more than one language.
According to a recent study conducted at the University of Chicago and published in Psychological Science (http://pss.sagepub.com/), children learning a second language were generally better able to grasp the intention of another person, even when that intention was not verbalized. In other words, bilingual children were more empathetic than monolingual children. The research was conducted using young children, as statistics suggest language skills learned at very young ages have a more profound effect on other areas of development than when a second language is learned later in life.
The same study also indicated that in children not yet fluent speakers of the second language the ability to better empathize is still present. While there is certainly disagreement over the reason for this perceived higher level of empathy, the fact remains it appears to be present in the vast majority of children learning a second language when quite young.
Does that increased ability to empathize occur when older individuals learn a second language? At this point, there is no indication individuals learning another language later in life enjoy that same enhanced ability to empathize. However, even older adults enjoy a variety of benefits from learning a second, or even third, language. It’s also important to understand adult brains function differently than those of young children, and the same tests employed by the University of Chicago researchers would not be appropriate for studying changes in adult behavior resulting from learning another language.
While most experts agree children learn additional languages more easily when quite young, there is no reason to ignore the opportunities older individuals can take advantage of by learning a new language. While older people may not learn a new language as quickly as a young child does, any learning experience is beneficial, no matter how old the learner happens to be. Anyone considering a new career or planning to travel abroad is encouraged to take advantage of opportunities to learn a new language.
If you’re looking for ideas, you could take a community college class, or you could learn at home using a computer software system. There are several great programs out there on the market for people who are looking to learn at home, one being the Rocket Languages program. This program is excellent and comes in many different languages. It’s also designed to allow learners to take the program with them on the road so they never miss a day. Staying consistent is one of the biggest keys when it comes to learning a new tongue. Also, Spanish is the easiest to learn for English speakers, and seems to be the most useful.