What My Second Language Has Done For Me (and What Yours Can Do for You)

Based on this census data report released in late 2015, about 79% of the population of the US speaks the English language at home. I don’t think that number would surprise anyone.

Would it surprise you to know that there are over 192 languages spoken in the private space among the people of New York City?

How about the fact that over 50% of the population of Los Angeles speaks a language other than English?

What would the US be like as a nation if it was more like the small, multi-lingual countries of Europe?

Personally, I find it interesting that there are over 1.25-million French speakers in the States – that’s about half the number of French native speakers living in the Greater Montréal Area.

Looking at this language retention table for Montréal, it’s intriguing to note that while 98% of Francophones speak mostly French (their native tongue…duh!) at home, only 94% of Anglos fall into the same category. The difference between these two figures means that there is an adventurous group of English guys and girls out there who are willing to get down with the language of their partner and/or family. That would certainly be my reality if I lived with a Francophone partner!

Back in my uni-lingual days, almost every single new social situation or venue that I would walk into in this town scared the crap out of me. There’s just no other way of putting it – I was nervous as heck meeting Francophones and being in rooms where French was the dominant language being thrown around. Now it’s a different story…

Although I’m not perfectly fluent in French, I’m now pretty much « à l’aise » (at ease) in the language. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve banged out several French e-mails, taken at least one French phone call (confession: speaking French on the phone still scares the crap out of me!), read a few news articles, visited the very French town of Québec City, and caught up with some of my Franco colleagues and friends en français. It’s all a lifestyle thing now!

A second language (it doesn’t even matter which) is a beautiful thing. Thanks to how much hard work that it takes to develop another tongue (especially if learned later in life), the learning outcome is extremely fulfilling. With fulfillment comes a lot of happiness. Here’s what else speaking French has done for me (and could do for anyone):

Improved my job prospects – from a pure economics standpoint, there are just so many more opportunities for a bilingual worker versus a uni-lingual one. Whether you work in international business, a multi-lingual service market (like downtown Montréal), or among a community with a majority language that is not your native tongue, bilingualism sets you up for a much more prosperous future. There are some signs that being bilingual leads to an increase in salary versus uni-lingual counterparts, although the languages in which you are fluent and where you live play a major role in determining this.

Grown my circle of friends – afraid of meeting new Francophones I am no more! Often times when making a new acquaintance, a single language is implicitly chosen for use in the bulk of communication between the two parties. Upon meeting a new Franco friend, my usual aim is to make that primary language French, although quite often there will be a blend of both languages in play. The more comfortable you are in a second language, the more naturally new friendships will form.

Augmented my current relationships – giving great effort in the language of another is the quickest and most direct way to demonstrate your respectfulness toward others – I have yet to see a better way of accomplishing this! Especially with my French coaching friends and Francophone players, this has been a major factor in my development as a coach. Coaching is all based on building relationships, and the more you can get to know the people that you guide, the greater the level of trust between coach and player becomes. More trust equals more buy-in, leading to more change, and better overall outcomes for everyone.

Allowed me to better see other people’s points of view – by being a language learner I have become an explorer of humanity.  “There are as many ways to live life as there are people on this planet,” said Greek composer and pianist Yanni. Québecois culture is just one of the many beautiful others that this world has to offer. It is clear to me now that the mind becomes stronger and more open every time that we stitch a new piece of societal fabric into the tapestry of our lives.

Made me a more confident person – this has been without question the biggest change in my life over the past few years. I don’t think I can even compare myself to when I was in, say, university and going through my early-20s. Yes, there is a difference in the way that I carry myself, but the bigger transformations have happened on the inside. Going through the tough times of language learning has made me personally tougher. Becoming  « à l’aise » in French has turned me into a much less insecure person. This in turn has made me happier, and I’d be more than willing to bet that happy people are naturally more confident than unhappy ones.

If it can work for me, it can work for you. Languages are so transformational that it’s no wonder that people have been fighting for them for centuries. Instead of striving to create a uni-lingual world, I feel that the human race would be much stronger, more tolerant and more peaceful if we simply all spoke many languages. Speaking two (as is my case) isn’t really all that impressive when compared to the talents of the world’s foremost polyglots, but the life-enhancing effects that come through better connections with others can be experienced by just trying to learn a language.

Where will your languages lead you in life?



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