Learning a second language has many cognitive benefits. For example, it has been shown to delay Alzheimer’s, boost brainpower, reduce cognitive biases, and even increase concentration and the ability to tune out distractions.
But, more so than cognitive effects, the ability to speak a second language has a ton of social benefits. There’s bliss in having the ability to order food in the waiter’s native language, to eavesdrop on people in an elevator, or to impress natives by speaking with and understanding them.
I really can’t imagine living somewhere and not speaking the language – guess I won’t be moving to China any day soon! Although I did try to learn Chinese once, but the alphabet alone had me beaten!
Anyway, how do people do it? The usual attitude of the Expat abroad to speak slowly and shout really does not achieve anything, other than making him (and yes it usually is a man!) look a complete and utter fool. More often than not it only encourages the other person to persist in pretending to not understand a word even when they do!
There are also those times when the bureaucrats think they can send you on a wild goose chase as they assume you neither know the system nor understand them – and when that happens it is just such fun to see their reaction when you can answer back and turn the tables on them.
As the old adage goes, don’t judge a book by its cover – my name may be English, but I know what you’re saying (well most of the time!)
Finally though the best part of living abroad and speaking the language of that country is seeing the pleasure that the locals get when they stop for a natter, they love speaking their language with you, they love it even more when you chat back with them and the sense of community and belonging that you get as a result makes it so worthwhile.
So what are you waiting for?
Have a go – nobody is laughing at you, more likely you will all be laughing together – and that has to be good for you!