For the love of languages
The Saudi Ministry of Education recently announced that it will introduce Chinese lessons into our schools as part of its efforts to advance Saudi Arabia’s educational system. As soon as this news was announced social media became inundated with sarcastic comments about the initiative, even before the final details were revealed.
The possibilities of how Chinese may be taught — an elective in high school, a non-credit course, as part of elementary school curricula — are endless, but it is sadly no surprise that so many social-media commentators jumped the gun. It seems to be part of the human condition.
I am a language researcher and language lover. I do not see why we should not learn more than one or two languages. But I realize that not everyone understands the true benefits of doing so. In this article, it is my intention to share those benefits with you so that you can decide if this was a step forward for education in Saudi Arabia, or just “propaganda,” as some may claim.
One of the major benefits of learning a foreign language — regardless of what language it is — is that it helps improve our mental abilities. Learning a new language entails learning different rules and structures, which helps develop our thinking skills. Switching from one language to another is a demanding job for the brain; it has to constantly switch between the different grammar rules and recall vocabulary, all of which increases memory power. Furthermore, there is research that shows that learning new languages decreases the likelihood of dementia.
According to a study carried out at Pennsylvania State University, learning languages makes a student better at multi-tasking, due to the constant shift from one language system to another. It also reduces the stress that is associated with multi-tasking. Another study, from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, showed that people who are multilingual are better observers of their surroundings. I can support that statement from my personal experience; knowing three languages has made me a better observer of how people function and behave in one language or culture as opposed to other languages or cultures.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the workplace benefits of knowing more than one language. According to a study from the University of Chicago, multilingual people are better decision-makers. There are move obvious benefits too: If you are working in a multilingual team, then being able to communicate with its members in their native language is going to make the team more effective.
From my own research, I know that learning a new language gives us flexibility, tolerance and appreciation of other people’s opinions not only at work, but in our daily life.
If I still have not convinced you of how important learning new languages is, I am not sure what will, but I must end with this point: Learning new languages gives us better mental health. Now, that’s something I am sure we all need. So, let’s get ready to speak Mandarin!
Dr. Taghreed Al-Saraj is a best-selling Saudi author, international public speaker and entrepreneurship mentor.