Ni Hao!: How Learning a New Language Can Keep You Sharp

The other morning on the subway, I overheard a young girl talking to her mother about why she didn’t want to go to school. It wasn’t because of a test, tiredness, being sick or bullies. The little girl’s response was simply, and surprisingly, “Because Chinese is hard!”

Yes, Chinese is hard. Trust me, I took Chinese for a year in high school and all I can remember is the word for “hamburger”. But learning any new language is a challenge, especially as we get into our adulthood. What once was easy and second nature when we were babies is now difficult, confusing, and frustrating at times. It’s all Greek to me, literally.

But if you put in the time and effort, learning a new language can be incredibly rewarding. It opens doors you never thought possible and introduces you to a whole new culture, people and way of thinking. All the reasons that Chinese is difficult also make it unique and eye-opening. Imagine being able to order your dinner in Chinese? Or not feeling like a tourist on your next vacation? Keeping your mind active is also important as you get older, and one of the best ways to do that is by learning a new language. Being able to say even a few phrases in a new language provides you with a sense of accomplishment (and bragging rights) that you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

If you’ve been thinking about learning a new language, but don’t have the time or motivation, there are ways to incorporate language learning into your already busy schedule. Living Language is a fantastic program that has apps, online courses and an active community to help you learn Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese, Japanese or Arabic. You can even play around in the language lab here  and enter to win a free language class here!

As the little girl on the train said, learning a new language may be hard, but it can also be fun, and should be fun first and foremost. Make a goal to start learning a new language this fall—even if you don’t become fluent, it’s a great exercise to keep your mind sharp and expand your worldview.

What languages do you speak? Have you learned a new language lately?


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