If you haven’t uttered—or understood—a word of French since freshman year of high school, it might be time to brush up on your foreign language skills, and not just so you can sound sophisticated at a fancy restaurant. According to a survey from Rocket Languages, an online language-learning program, 77 percent of respondents perceive people who speak another language as more intelligent. What’s more, of the 5,000 people surveyed, almost 98 percent believe that knowing a second language makes you a better candidate for a job or promotion, and almost 40 percent believe they’ve missed out on a career opportunity because they’re monolingual.
Even if you’re happy with your office situation, know this: being bilingual alters your brain structure and protects against dementia. Taking on a second language makes your mind more flexible, which allows you to better adapt to changes and process information more efficiently, according to a study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
A second language can also help you score points with the opposite sex. Seventy-nine percent of respondents in the Rocket Languages survey fessed up to finding foreign language speakers more attractive. Not surprisingly, French ranks as the sexiest language, followed by Italian and Spanish.
Don’t despair if your foreign language skills max out at “Voulez-vous choucher avec moi ce soir?” We’ve gathered five tips to help you get a grasp on a new language as an adult.
- Find your learning style. Some people learn by doing, while others learn by seeing. If you’ve always been a visual person, pick up a workbook. But if you soak up information better by listening, invest in an audio program for your iPhone.
- Create a plan. Make a commitment to a new language and integrate it into your everyday life. “Just 20 to 30 minutes of targeted learning each day can equip you with basic language skills in around three months,” says Rocket Languages CEO Jason Oxenham.
- Immerse yourself. Building an environment that mirrors the language you’re trying to learn can keep you on track. Learning Español? Change your screensaver to a Machu Picchu landscape; the promise of an exotic destination will motivate you to keep going. While you’re at it, pick up a cookbook filled with authentic recipes.
- Mix it up. “Alternate learning days with practice days,” says Oxenham. “Even if you don't have a partner to practice with, think about the words for common items as you use them, or how you'd respond to others in conversation.”
- Don’t take a second language too seriously. It’s not all grammar and pronunciation. Bolster your skills with activities like foreign films and restaurant outings (pick a place with a menu written in the native language).
Once you get a grip on the basics, look for a place to practice your skills. Most major cities have language-oriented Meetups that include things like happy hours and cooking classes. Learn to make tiramisu, and then use your new skills to sweeten her up.
Francophiles can reach out to the local chapter of Alliance Français, which has multiple locations across the US. Whether you chat it up with Parisians or partake in a wine tasting, you’ll likely meet likeminded ladies.
If you really want to take learning a new language to the next level, enroll in an immersion program. Spanish programs, in particular, ship you off to cool locations, like the rainforest or beach. The Costa Rica Spanish Institute, for example, offers one to four week programs. Work with a tutor for four hours a day, then hit the surf. Learning a language doesn’t get much better than that.