by Niall Doherty

As you know from my last post, I’ve invested a lot of time over the past few months in learning Spanish. Before I moved to Spain this summer, I hadn’t tried to speak a foreign language since I left secondary school over a decade ago, save for a couple of weeks of Italian last year. Today I want to talk about all the side-benefits you get from learning a second language, lessons that can be applied to many other areas of your life.

1. Figure out your preferred learning style

If you had asked me back in April which learning style was best for me, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Now I know that I’m very much a visual learner. Hearing the same word repeated over and over again doesn’t help me remember as well as seeing it written out just once. Now that I’m aware of this, I can tackle other learning challenges in a visual way and speed along that curve.

2. More confidence speaking your native language

If you ever find yourself stuck for words in your native language, spend a few months trying to converse in a foreign tongue. Then go back to your first language and you’ll find it hard to keep your mouth shut. I discovered this when I attended the World Domination Summit in the US after my first month in Spain. I felt like I was suddenly free to fully express myself with all those English-speaking people around, and I took full advantage of it by talking to everyone I possibly could.

Similarly, as I’ve been traveling through France this week, I find myself hoping to run into some folks who speak Spanish. Suddenly that language doesn’t seem so difficult to me when compared to French!

3. Sharpened communication skills

Several things here:

  • Learning another language requires that you spend a lot of time listening attentively, and as such you can’t help but become a better listener. I find I’m no longer so easily distracted while listening to someone else speak. (Related article: 9 ways to listen like a champ)
  • You get much better at reading other people’s gestures and facial expressions. I’m not even sure exactly how I figure out what someone is saying to me when I don’t understand the words they’re speaking (as has happened several times in France this week), but my guess is that I’ve gotten better at picking up all those subtle non-verbal ques that we all use every day, and at taking into consideration the context of every conversation.
  • You also become more expressive yourself, no longer relying just on words to communicate. It’s pretty amazing how much you can say with body language and facial expressions alone.

4. Kill your perfectionist tendencies

I consider myself a recovering perfectionist, and the cure can’t come fast enough. Learning a second language has really helped me appreciate just how much my perfectionism gets in the way of my progress. I know I speak much better Spanish when I forget about being perfect just let the words come out. People are generally patient and can understand what I’m trying to communicate, even when my sentences are littered with mistakes.

I’ve been gradually chipping away at my perfectionist tendencies, and while I know I still have a long way to go, learning another language has definitely helped me knock off some big chunks.

5. Assurance that you can succeed at anything

I’ve had many ups and downs while learning Spanish. Some days I feel like I’m making huge strides and really starting to get into a flow with the language, while other days I struggle to understand even simple sentences and it crosses my mind to just give up altogether. But as I’ve written about before, I know that I can’t help but eventually succeed so long as I keep putting forth consistent effort and experimenting regularly.

Seeing how far I’ve come with my Spanish in just one summer has really strengthened that belief, and I find myself gradually working towards success in many other areas of my life using the same approach.

How about you?

What hidden benefits have you experienced from learning a second language? Let me know in the comments.

Welcome Fluent In 3 Months readers!

I’m fortunate enough to have a guest post about my experience learning Spanish on Benny Lewis’ excellent Fluent In 3 Months site today. For those of you who’ve just come over via Fi3M, welcome!

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P.S. Hello from Nantes! I just arrived from Bordeaux after another eventful day of hitchhiking. I’ll be sure to share in my next post all about the French driver who told me he could feel my soul and gifted me a tiny rock that he claimed came from the tomb of Mary Magdalene!