Adults who learn a new language often do so for professional reasons, but research shows there are many other benefits. Learning a new language can make you more creative and more focused in your thinking. Older adults who speak more than one language are less likely to develop dementia. Linguist Amy Thompson, in a blog post from 2016 recently reprinted in Newsweek, suggests there may be another upside: improved tolerance.
Thompson says tolerance manifests in a couple of ways. Understanding a foreign language can make you more sensitive to a foreign culture, making it easier to navigate around differences in customs and manners. It also raises your ability to manage in ambiguous situations, gaining clues from nonexplicit information such as gestures and tone of voice.
The reason, Thompson suggests, is that the very act of learning a new language opens the learner to new possibilities, and practically requires some degree of understanding and empathy with the new culture. Stereotypes and other simplistic cultural opinions generally can’t withstand that scrutiny.
Tolerance is a personal virtue, but it is also a useful business skill. “A high tolerance of ambiguity brings many advantages,” Thompson writes. “It helps students become less anxious in social interactions and in subsequent language learning experiences… [furthermore] Individuals with higher levels of tolerance of ambiguity have also been found to be more entrepreneurial (i.e., are more optimistic, innovative and don’t mind taking risks),” a trait which correlates to higher earning power and better career mobility in our current turbulent global economy.
Thompson marshals her arguments to encourage more universities and higher educational institutions to require foreign language competency, but her points are even more relevant to business organizations and adult professionals. In those situations, learning Business English has immediate rewards and return on investment: the ability to interact with other English-speakers in professional settings, consistency in management across global organizations, etc. It also appears to be the case that it can improve personal performance in a number of other areas that can help both the employer and the worker.