5 Reasons You Should Probably Learn A Second Language

While it’s cool to know that being bilingual has scads of smarty-pants benefits, the study overlooks many other things that are awesome about knowing more than one language. But don’t worry -- I’m here to help with five more!

Jan 11, 2013 at 11:30am | Leave a comment

I speak one language. I do not say this with any “Boot In Yer Ass” American-style pride all dressed up as candor. I say this with slight embarrassment, but I say it all the same -- because it is sadly true. Greet me in a language other than English and I am left with little recourse other than to blush and blink rapidly, doing my best to use body language to convey my absolutely understandable apologia for my sin of monolingual expression.

It is not for lack of trying. In middle school, being 90% certain that I was the reincarnated squat girl version of Alexander the Great, I opted for Latin. I figured should the tide turn and the ancient nation rise again, I best needs be prepared. Sadly, the gods did not agree, and as my teacher wisely intoned on Caesar’s War in Gaul, I began to rethink my whole world-domination thing and managed to pass only through a panicked-based system of frantic late-night memorization.

High school French was a pace better. Mainly because I was pretty confident that my terrible French accent was going to be a boxer-dropper should I ever manage to meet any boys. I did okay until we hit the subjunctive, at which point the aforementioned frantic memorization replaced my actual understanding. I hid my panic behind culture, becoming the French club president, and watching many, many, French soft-core pornos all under the guise of “it's for class, mom!”

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(I'm French y'all! Thanks to Jesse for once again, being THE BEST and helping art-me.)



For reasons that remain unexplained, when I made it to college, rather than take the level four French I had tested into, I opted to TAKE LATIN FOR TWO YEARS TO MEET MY LANGUAGE REQUIREMENTS. This was hellacious. The classes were at 7:30 (IN THE MORNING) and we read all the Aeneid. Or so I’m told. I’ve blocked most of the experience. Still, I got a Latin name, so that was pretty cool. (Terentia, in the casam!*)

It’s a pity I didn’t learn either one properly, because -- even though Latin is a dead language and thus one could argue “doesn’t count” -- research indicates that being bilingual does all sorts of sexy things to your brain meats when you're old. It’s true! Apparently seniors who are bilingual make more efficient use of their frontal lobes. Good for those guys! Also I’m not that broken up about it because my current plans for oldness include things like “stare at wall” and “feed children taffy.” I’ll probably be good.

While it’s rad to know that being bilingual has smarty-pants benefits, the study overlooks many other things that are awesome about knowing more than one language. But don’t worry -- I’m here to help with five more!

1.) Be A Carrie Mathison Style Covert Government Operative

Sure, you could opt for James Bond, or maybe you prefer the brooding goofiness of the Saint, but I’m keeping it topical (and poppin’) by suggesting Carrie! After all, who among us hasn’t battled with authority, our hearts, and our mental illness to get their terrorist take-down on, right? Also Claire Danes’s hair is like butter and I want to wear a coat of it. But not in a weird way.**

2.) Surprise Jerkwards

David Sedaris has an awesome essay in "Me Talk Pretty One Day" about two American tourists assuming he was a French pickpocket and his regret upon getting off the train that he didn’t fuck with them more. As a person who is woefully unable to come up with killer final-line comebacks for my enemies, surprising them with my understanding seems intensely appealing.

3.) Help People!

I love giving people directions! It’s like one of my favorite things when I am in Manhattan and folks ask me for help. It makes me feel not only like I belong, but like I have been seen and recognized as fundamentally decent. I love being all, “Sure! Walk all the way to the Bronx now!” Because also I have a terrible sense of direction. There are probably still several families lost in Central Park thanks to my ready if not able assistance. That said, how awesome would it be of you to hear people speaking a language you also speak, and to be able to soothe their fears? And also not send them to Queens for no discernible reason?

4.) Add To Your Expletive Arsenal

I love to curse so much. A lot. All of the time. But as much as I relish a hearty Anglo-Saxon "fuck" and the hissy irritation of a well-timed (ha) "shit" -- that biznasty gets tired! A girl gets bored! Learn a second language and you will be all, merde, yet mae, besame el culo, Ihre Mutter geht hurend in der Stadt! Ha, ha, I feel smarter already.

5.) Avoid Social Interaction

Although I have been known to enjoy the company of others (WINK), I most of the time do not care for being surrounded by people and having to do things like “talk to them” and “be friends.” If you only know one language and are walking down the street and someone you know stops you to be all, ”HOW ARE YOU?!” you kind of have no choice -- you have to engage. But should you happen to know another language, you can whip it out (giggity) and feign not to be the droids they are looking for! Classic.

How many languages do you speak? What did I leave out? And please don’t be all “to better commune with my fellow man” because seriously? Seriously?

*or is it casa? I LEGIT STILL DON’T KNOW?
** I realize there is only a weird way.