How learning a new language can benefit your workforce

Language learning presents innumerable benefits, but not many organizations leverage it to boost and strengthen their workforce. Why? On face value, language training doesn’t explicitly address immediate business concerns. It is often seen as training reserved for frontliners in a company that transacts globally. Now that it’s much easier to roll out language training company-wide, organizations may find that it’s an undeniable opportunity to translate its deeper advantages to all their teams.

Language training provides benefits beyond the ability to converse more effectively in a new language. According to several studies, actively learning and practicing a new language sharpens many cognitive skills. Aside from making your employees seem more intelligent, open-minded, and interesting, the effect of learning a new language can have a deeper impact on the way they work and carry out their professional tasks on a daily basis.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of language training your organization might have overlooked:

 

1. Language training improves mental alertness

Attention to detail or detail-orientedness is a competency that is often, if not always, cited on job vacancy posts across all departments—from accounting and administration, to human resources, marketing, and production. It is a skill that is also quite easily taken for granted in the rush to produce and please internal or external customers. Flawless work is impossible, however decreasing the number of errors and the costs associated with them are with better attention to detail.

According to the research by the University of Edinburgh titled Novelty, Challenge, and Practice: The Impact of Intensive Language Learning on Attentional Functions, learning a new language can enhance attentional functions in all age groups. Its lead researcher Dr. Thomas Bak emphasized three important findings in their study, “Firstly, it is never too late to start a novel mental activity such as learning a new language. Secondly, even a short intensive course can show beneficial effects on some cognitive functions. Thirdly, this effect can be maintained through practice.”

2. Language training enhances multi-tasking abilities

The myth of multitasking is busted; studies have shown that it is impossible to focus on more than one task at a time. And yet, this skill is still widely coveted, peppering job ads and resumes. In the professional world, multitasking is really the ability to prioritize tasks and manage multiple projects in any given timeline.

Most of the cognitive advantages that bilingual speakers have can be referred to as a multitasking competency, said Judith F. Kroll, Penn State Director for the Center of Language Science. Bilingual speakers, as the research indicates, are better at editing out irrelevant information and focusing on what’s important. The researchers trace the source of these cognitive advantages to the way bilinguals learn to mentally negotiate between languages. This language selection or code switching, is a form of mental exercise, Kroll added. “Bilinguals seem to be better at this type of perspective taking.”

3. Language training heightens decision-making skills

Decision-making is the cornerstone of leadership. Great leaders make great decisions using critical problem-solving skills and timely solutions to challenges. The inability to make these types of decisions can lead to a bottleneck in the organizational process and disrupt the overall production and efficiency of a team.

So, how does language training affect the decision-making process? The University of Chicago study titled The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases discovered just that. “It may be intuitive that people would make the same choices regardless of the language they are using, or that the difficulty of using a foreign language would make decisions less systematic. We discovered, however, that the opposite is true: Using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases,” explained the psychologists in the study. It’s possible that the cognitive demands of thinking in a non-native, non-automatic language permits greater emotional and cognitive distance, eliminating unnecessary deliberation when making a decision.

 

Learning a new language as an adult may not come as naturally as when learning as a child, but having a wider vocabulary and a pre-existing understanding of how language works allows them to learn more efficiently.

Brains are a lot like muscles that become fit and increase in capacity when you exercise them. The parts of the brain that’s actively used while learning a new language become more capable and adaptable, resulting in better mental alertness, enhanced multitasking abilities, and heightened decision making skills. These skills are valuable and greatly desired across all teams in every organization.

 

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