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What Learning a Second Language Can Teach You About Your Own

What Learning a Second Language Can Teach You About Your Own | ITTT | TEFL Blog

In our global and connected world, knowing more than one language serves many benefits. Although technology has enabled communication across countries to be possible through translation apps, these apps fail to account for cultural etiquette and language nuances. Metaphors, figures of speech, and tone get easily distorted, which can lead to altered meanings and giggle-worthy translations.

On top of the ability to communicate with more people, many researchers have linked foreign language study to enhanced cognition and behavioral skills. One such benefit that I have observed in adults as both a language learner and language teacher is a deepened understanding of your native language.

Improved Vocabulary

During the early stages of foreign language learning, it is natural to want to translate words and sentences verbatim from your thoughts and first language. However, the direct translation is not always possible. Translating each and every word will sometimes result in a sentence that makes no sense. Instead, it is the meaning of the sentence that should be the focus. To preserve the meaning, you must be willing to omit, substitute, or add words. In doing so, you may encounter new words that are not part of your everyday vocabulary.

You may learn a new word in your new language at the same time you learn that word in your mother tongue. During the more advanced phases of language learning, reading articles and having conversations will also bring about a myriad of new words.

Each language has a set of commonly used words and phrases, and these are not always the same across languages. It is possible to find yourself using a word more often in a foreign language than you do in your native one.

Additionally, the connotation of words is not identical across languages. Seeing that one language uses a synonym of a word you would use in your native tongue can bring increased awareness to the nuances of words, both in your native tongue and your target language. This comes into play particularly during more advanced learning, when expressing deeper thoughts, emotions, and opinions and wanting to ensure that the precise meaning is maintained.

Thus, learning a new set of vocabulary when studying a new language will likely increase and improve your understanding and knowledge of vocabulary in your first language.

Enhanced Cultural Understanding

Many of the phrases and sayings in a language are largely tied to culture. Greetings, small talk, and expressions offer a unique insight into the values of a society and place.

People may not be acutely aware of how their everyday expressions relate back to their culture, as it is not always a common topic of conversation. It is easy to accept that ‘that’s just the way it is’ in your mother tongue and not question language etiquette any further. But when learning a new language, it is reasonable to wonder ‘why’ and contemplate the origins or reasons behind some of these commonly used expressions in an attempt to better understand them.

In my experience, this often leads learners to reflect on their own languages’ commonly used phrases, drawing similarities or recognizing differences. This contemplation prompts people to recognize the close relationship between culture and language in both their new language and their native one.

Better Understanding of Grammar, Syntax, and Sentence Structure

It is unlikely that the new language you choose to learn will have identical grammar, syntax, and sentence structure to your native language.

While it’s possible that you sat through years of language class in primary school and learned the breakdown of your native language, it’s probably not something that you think about each time you read, write or speak.

Perhaps you haven’t really even thought about it since the last standardized test you took. When learning a second language, it becomes a necessary focal point. Word order and verb conjugation must be carefully thought out when crafting sentences. As with other aspects of language learning, it is natural to draw parallels and look for resemblances to your native language.

Thus, learning new grammar, syntax, and sentence structure may carry over to thinking about and better understanding it in your first language.

Are you ready to teach English as a foreign language?

Knowing more than one language can increase perspective and lead people to develop a new frame of mind. This new outlook can potentially lead to a better understanding of your own native language by giving learners new parameters to reflect on their language with. For a majority of people, first language acquisition happens by default of growing up and immersion and isn’t something you sit down and learn from scratch.

Approaching a second language as an adult will be much different and can lead to reflecting on your mother tongue in ways you haven’t before. It’s never too late to challenge yourself to learn a new language, and the benefits may lead to enhanced awareness and a heightened understanding of your native language.

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