Learning Another Language Reinforces your Native Language

If one language adds such richness to your life, double your appreciation and communication skills by learning a second one!

 Improved Grammar Awareness, Enhanced Vocabulary, Cultural Awareness, Increased Appreciation for Language are some ways that learning another language reinforces your native language.

“Bringing my dog along, I went to the store to buy milk for my grandma.”


Simple enough to understand, right? Well, let me ask you some questions. In this sentence, what is the independent clause? The main verb, subject, and direct object?  The adverb? The preposition? As you can see, such a simple sentence to speak and understand can quickly become complex when broken down into its individual parts. Language is an amazing mode of communication that is both universal and individual, bound by rules and yet mutable. If one language is all of this and more, does it overwhelm your brain to try and learn a second language? On the contrary! Here is how learning another language reinforces your native language:


Improved Grammar Awareness

Learning a second language that is unfamiliar to you will force your brain to slow down and pick out the individual parts of the sentence structure and you can apply this knowledge to your native language. For example, say your Spanish vocabulary words for the week include “durante” (during) and “debajo de” (below) and you want to say, “During class, my backpack was below the desk.” If English is your native language, your brain will intuitively know that “during” explains time and “below” explains location without having to think twice about the function of the words in the sentence. 


Enter Spanish, your unexpected grammar teacher. 


In order to translate the English sentence into Spanish, your brain will have to slow down and think about what the words mean and how they are being used. When is this event taking place? During class – durante la clase. Where is the backpack? Under the desk – Debajo del escritorio. “Durante la clase, mi mochila estaba debajo del escritorio.” If you are learning a language through a program or textbook, you will most likely learn that words that show direction, time, place, location are called prepositions. 


Armed with this knowledge of what a preposition is and where they are found in sentences, you will be able to apply for more precise communication of time, location, and direction in your native language. 



Enhanced Vocabulary

Learning the vocabulary of a second language will allow you to use the vocabulary of your native language in more creative and impactful ways. Read the English translations of these Mandarin words below:


Giraffe = Long Neck Deer 长颈鹿 (chángjǐnglù) 

Years, passing of time = 岁月 (sùi yùe = age + moon, month)


Have you ever thought about a giraffe as a long neck deer before? My guess is that you haven’t, but now you have a new creative way to describe a giraffe! Similarly, the individual characters of 岁月 (sùi yùe) translate into “age” (岁) and “moon or month” (月). In English, “time passed” has the ‘matter-of-fact’ connotation of “we were once there and now we are here.” However “岁月 (sùi yùe)” is a more poetic way of speaking of the passage of time as if to imagine the moon going through cycles and all the nostalgic memories that you have experienced. Learning vocabulary of another language will reinforce your native language, as well as expand your creativity and flexibility of expression. 


Cultural Awareness

Developing your communication skills in a second language will inevitably grow your ability to be culturally aware, which will in turn affect how you communicate in your native language. As you open up your French textbook to the ‘finances’ chapter, you may think you’re here today to simply learn the vocabulary words such as acheter (to buy), vendre (to sell), salaire (salary), argent (money). However when you chat with your French language partner later in the week, you are shocked to learn that it is rude to ask people about their finances and salary in France. If you are from a culture that speaks more openly about finances, like America, then you will have learned a new way of thinking and how to be more culturally sensitive. When you learn the nuances of a foreign language and culture, you will be able to respect them, build deeper connections, and adapt to new communication styles. This will also help you in your own culture as you realize that subcultures within your own culture can be sensitive to different topics and methods of communication (for example, sarcasm). Good communication involves not only speaking, but good listening and social awareness.


Increased Appreciation for Language

I hope that reading this article has given you a glimpse of the complex, multifaceted beauty and power of language and increased your appreciation for the words you think, speak and listen to every day. If one language adds such richness to your life, double your appreciation and communication skills by learning a second one! A great place to start is Cultural Bytes’ amazing One-on-one language tutoring for adults and children (Spanish, French, or Mandarin), as well as in person camps and online camps for children (Spanish only).


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