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Speaking a second language – as a first priority 

By  Lysette Offley

Speaking a second language - photo of touristsI don’t know about you, but speaking a second language seems like a plan!

I’m extremely grateful to be a native English speaker. Although I studied French at school, that was a long time ago! And it’s been ages time since I’ve spoken any French at all. So needless to say my French is more than a little rusty.

In fact, I resorted to using Google Translate to maintain an email conversation in French, with my hero Dr John Grinder (co-founder of NLP) prior to attending a course led by him in Aix en Provence, France.

It felt like cheating, but it was so much easier than having to think for myself!

And yes, after keeping the conversation going for a while, I fessed up! In fact, I thought the whole thing hilarious and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Goodness only knows how accurate the online tool was, but it was good enough for me.

Only today, I saw an advertisement for an app that would instantly translate for you in 20 different languages.

What you think? If the technology exists to do the translating for you, should we bother to learn a second language?

In 2005, there was a survey carried out by the European Commission. They found that of the European Union’s 25 member states, the UK and Ireland were least able to hold a conversation in more than one language, and that two thirds of people there only speak English.

Speaking a second language - photo of tourists

Apparently, in the UK, the number of schoolchildren opting to learn a second language has halved since the early 1990s. While there’s been a very small rise in the number of children learning a second language in the USA, overall, the percentage of the total school population is even smaller than in the UK.

I guess part of the issue is that if you already speak English, very often it’s the other guy who will have already made the effort to speak your language. Perhaps that makes us lazy. But after all, the language of science, technology, business, diplomacy and popular culture is… yep! English!

Perhaps it depends on what’s important to you. But one compelling argument for going to the trouble of learning a second language is that it is one of the most effective forms of brain training available!

The good news is that it doesn’t matter if you were brought up with a second language or whether you begin learning it later in life, speaking more than one language improves your brain’s cognitive function right across the board, including planning and working memory, concentration and multitasking.

What’s more it can save your brain from the natural dulling that occurs as you age. It even delays the onset of dementia by as much as 5 years in people vulnerable to it.

Perhaps, despite having the advantage of being born into an English-speaking society, isn’t such an advantage after all? What do you think?

Lysette Offley


With 40 years of experience, Lysette Offley is a Memory and Mindset Coach to women and men at the top of their game in the Financial Services Industry who recognise the value of continual personal and professional development and support to achieve a healthy work-life balance, along with satisfaction and fulfilment.

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