Using language learning as a form of self-care for wellbeing

Charlotte Guest
Woman standing outside with a coffee and headphones
Reading time: 6.5 minutes

In today’s fast-paced world, finding time for self-care is more important than ever. Among a range of traditional self-care practices, learning a language emerges as an unexpected but incredibly rewarding approach. Learning a foreign language is a key aspect of personal development and can help your mental health, offering benefits like improved career opportunities, enhanced creativity, and the ability to connect with people from diverse cultures.

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The therapeutic power of foreign language study

Learning a new language is an immersive experience that requires focus, discipline and creativity. This immersive quality makes it an excellent form of mental escape, allowing learners to momentarily step away from their day-to-day stresses.

It transports you into a different world, one where the rhythms and sounds of an entirely new language stimulate your brain in refreshing and exciting ways, enhancing your communication skills by improving listening, speaking, reading and writing abilities. It offers a unique form of personal development that nurtures both the mind and the soul. So, what are the mental health benefits of learning a second language?

Cognitive benefits

The cognitive benefits of learning a new language are well-documented. It enhances memory, improves attention and can even delay the onset of dementia. However, its advantages extend beyond mere brain health. Engaging with a new language challenges your brain, keeping it active and engaged, and thereby promoting a healthy mind.

Learning more than one language can slow cognitive decline and improve memory, offering a significant advantage in maintaining cognitive health. Additionally, Alan C. Frantz's publication Seventeen Values of Foreign Language Study highlights the cognitive benefits of foreign language study, further emphasizing its importance. Read more about how language learning can help your brain here.

Mindful learning

In a world where multitasking and distractions are the norm, foreign languages offer an opportunity for mindfulness. The process requires your complete attention, allowing you to disconnect from external stressors and be fully present in the moment. It's a form of active meditation that can reduce anxiety, improve mood and promote overall well-being. By focusing on the present moment, you can let go of worries about the future or regrets about the past.

Personal growth

During your studies, you will inevitably come across cultural nuances and different ways of thinking. Such exposure broadens our perspective and promotes personal growth by challenging our existing beliefs and biases.

Studying foreign languages not only facilitates this by offering new ways to view the world but also enhances our understanding of our first language and makes learning a second or even third language easier. Learning a foreign tongue can significantly boost self-confidence, improve social interactions, and earn respect from others, making the learner more well-rounded, respected, and providing new perspectives and understanding. Soft skills like this are also very sought after by employers and are marketable skills. Read more here about how language helps your marketable skills here

Emotional and psychological advantages

In addition to cognitive improvements, language learning provides a wealth of emotional and psychological benefits.

Practicing with fluent speakers, in particular, offers unique emotional benefits such as building confidence and making new friends, which further contribute to the learner's sense of happiness and satisfaction. These interactions not only enhance language proficiency but also provide an opportunity for cultural exchange and personal growth, fostering a deeper connection and understanding between individuals from different backgrounds.

Some research suggests that the process of acquiring an additional language can contribute to an individual’s overall mental health by offering a sense of accomplishment and self-fulfilment.

Furthermore, this sense of progress and achievement fosters resilience, helping learners to better cope with challenges both within and outside of language contexts.

Emotional wellness and mental health

Learning a language is also deeply connected to emotional wellness. It instils a sense of achievement and confidence as you reach milestones and comprehend concepts that were once foreign. This sense of progress and accomplishment is crucial for building self-esteem and fostering a positive mindset.

Furthermore, the process of learning a language—filled with its ups and downs—teaches resilience. Each misunderstood word or grammatical error provides an opportunity for growth, encouraging learners to develop persistence and adaptability.

Your mental well-being also impacts your physical health; various research highlights that individuals with strong mental health are more likely to have robust physical health, indicating that psychological well-being plays a crucial role in mitigating risks associated with various physical conditions. Mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety, or depression can worsen or contribute to the development of health issues, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke. It can also help with things like anxiety according to some academics.

Engaging in activities that promote mental well-being, such as learning a new language, can, therefore, indirectly contribute to improving overall health by alleviating stress, improving sleep patterns, better attention span and boosting the immune system.

Cultural connectivity

One of the most beautiful aspects of studying a language is its ability to connect us to cultures different from our own. This connection fosters empathy, understanding and respect for diversity. By learning a second language, we gain insights into the way other people see the world, which, in turn, enriches our perspective and sense of connectedness to the global community, enhancing cognitive abilities, improving career opportunities, facilitating cultural exchange, delaying the onset of age-related mental decline, and boosting creativity and self-confidence.

Foreign language study goes further than cognitive and emotional benefits, stepping into sociolinguistic and cultural development.  It’s debated that individuals who engage in learning another language exhibit higher levels of cultural sensitivity and global awareness. This perspective highlights how language is not just a tool for communication but a gateway to understanding the complexities of different societies and their cultural nuances.

Language wellness activities

To further integrate foreign languages into your self-care routine, here are some wellness activities that combine the joy of language acquisition with relaxation and personal growth:

Mindful language meditation

Set aside time to meditate using simple language exercises. For example, practice mindfulness by repeating positive affirmations in your target language. This not only aids in language retention but also in cultivating a positive mindset.

Relaxing language audiobooks

Choose audiobooks in the language you're learning that are light and enjoyable or specifically designed for language learners. Listening to stories in a different language can be a calming experience, especially if you select genres that you find relaxing.

It not only helps in improving your listening skills but also allows you to enjoy storytelling in a whole new dimension. Engaging with content that captures your imagination and soothes your mind is a wonderful way to combine leisure with learning, making it a perfect addition to your self-care regimen.

Singing along to music in your target language

There's something uniquely therapeutic about singing. It allows for emotional expression and has been shown to reduce stress. Incorporate singing by listening to music in the language you're learning and singing along. Not only does this improve your pronunciation and listening skills, but it also gives you a fun, uplifting way to engage with the language. Choose songs that resonate with you emotionally for an even deeper self-care experience. This method combines the joy of music with language learning, creating a mood-boosting activity that nurtures your mental health and linguistic abilities simultaneously.

Foreign languages: Not just a way to improve communication skills

In conclusion, foreign language study is more than something for conventional educational goals; it can become a compelling form of self-care. By blending cognitive benefits with emotional and cultural enrichment, it offers a holistic approach to personal development and your mental health.

Whether through mindful meditation, engaging with relaxing audiobooks, or singing your heart out to foreign tunes, studying a language equips individuals with the tools to not only survive but thrive in our interconnected world. It encourages us to step out of our comfort zones, challenges our mental faculties, and ultimately, contributes to a richer, more fulfilling life experience.

Remember to take some time out of your day for some self-care, keeping in mind how languages can be an option to add into your routine. It’s important to stop and take some time for yourself.

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