As a bilingual speaker of German and English and language learner of French and Farsi, I reap the benefits of learning another language every day.
Learning a new language takes time, practice, and vulnerability. But it is worth it.
Here are 3 ways in which learning another language can benefit you:
1. You become aware of your cultural lense.
When I started learning Farsi, I became even more aware of my cultural lens.
I learned that in Persian culture the focus is on the family rather than the individual. This starts with how you begin a conversation with someone. In Germany, you tend to say “Hi” and get to the point of why you are calling someone. In the United Kingdom, you start a conversation by saying “Hi, how are you?”. When speaking Farsi, you tend to start the conversation by saying “Hi, how are you? How is your family?”.
This made me aware that I needed to think about my cultural lens and to use conversation norms that are appropriate to the culture and the language and not to directly translate what I would like to say into Farsi.
2. You learn about different ways of communicating.
Whilst learning Farsi, I learned that compared to English, the Farsi language is a lot more poetic.
For example, when you want to say that you miss someone, in Farsi you say “Delam barat tang shode” which translates to “My heart has tightened for you” in English. This poetic approach highlights that Farsi speakers may have a more indirect communication style compared to English speakers.
Being aware of indirect and direct communication styles is important. If you are communicating with an individual who has an indirect communication style it is important to learn more about their cultural context or even perhaps learn a few words to understand the language structure. Alternatively, you may decide to spend more time building your relationship with this individual so that you can understand their cultural context and personality better.
3. You can understand why people struggle to learn your language.
When I started learning Farsi, I saw the Persian alphabet as shapes rather than words. Now that I am able to read a book (reading age 15) I am able to recognise the alphabet as letters and words.
This ability to read a script alphabet has highlighted to me that when communicating to individuals who are not fluent in English or are not used to reading from left to right or reading a Latin alphabet, we need to consider this in our communication material.
We can improve our communication material in a number of ways, including using a typeface that is not too decorative, avoid using ‘italic’, and a typeface that has clear distinctions between letters such as ‘b’ and ‘d’.