Can Speaking A Foreign Language Make You A Better Leader?

Can Speaking A Foreign Language Make You A Better Leader?
October 11, 2014 Nishant

One of the most critical skills for a great global leader is a sensitivity to culture, also known as cultural empathy. Learning another language is an excellent way to develop this skill. Unfortunately, learning a second (or third) language is far more common in Europe than it is in the United States, since English is the international language of business. Americans often assume that they do not need to learn another language, but they could be missing out on some benefits of doing so. Here are some ways that speaking a second language could help you become a better leader.

Business Meeting

Boost your memory

When you exercise a muscle, it builds strength, and the same is true with your memory. Learning a new language involves a great deal of memorization to learn the vocabulary and language rules. This helps to strengthen your memory. Studies have shown that bilingual people are better at memorizing names, directions, and lists.

Specialists agree that bilingual individuals are smarter. Being proficient in a second language makes business people seem more authoritative, commanding, and confident. As an entrepreneur, you may have to deal with international investors who can’t speak English, so it’s always a good idea to give your memory a boost and start learning some Spanish, French or German.

Improve multitasking

A study by scientists from Northwestern University found that bilingual thinking can improve both working memory and attention. Processing things in two languages at once helps you hone your skills at determining what is or isn’t relevant. She referred to this as “mental juggling.” The ability to juggle multiple demands and focus on what is most relevant is certainly useful for a leader.

emp discussion

Make you smarter

Apparently, speaking a second language can improve your brain’s executive function. This is the command center that directs your processes for mentally demanding tasks like planning and problem solving. Bilingualism seems to improve the ability to stay focused, ignore distractions, hold information in your mind, and switch attention purposefully between different things. By improving the executive function of your brain, it can actually make you smarter, which could benefit any leader.

Avoid cognitive biases

One study from the Psychological Science journal reported that being able to think in another language helps with avoiding cognitive traps. Everyone has certain biases that affect how they weigh benefits and risks when making a decision. Thinking in a second language helps to avoid these biases, and can thereby lead to better decision making.

Stave off dementia

Several studies have examined the link between speaking multiple languages and development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Results showed that the onset of dementia is slowed by speaking a second language. The first signs of dementia were observed at a mean age of 71.4 years for adults who speak only one language. For adults who speak more than one language, that age goes up to 75.5. Even when other factors like income and education were considered, these results were still consistent.

Speaking another language regularly seems to be the key to attaining these benefits. If you haven’t used French since your class in high school, then your brain is probably not gaining these bilingual strengths. However, learning another language as an adult can provide the same gains as doing it while you are young, so it is never too late to start.

Benefits of bilingualism in public speaking

Every leader should master the art of public speaking. Unfortunately, not everyone can do that. Some entrepreneurs are too nervous to speak in front of an audience, which is why in this scenario a second language can help. Some specialists agree that people may find it easier to speak in public in a language that it not their mother tongue. Dealing with investors, holding speeches in front of tens of people and having to argument that your business is the best is easier said than done.

Hire speakers to help you overcome the fear of speaking in public. These people are specialists in their field; they can offer advice and thus point you in the right direction. Speaking in a foreign language can be of great assistance. Basically, you’re forcing yourself to think in a different language, which automatically means it will be easier for you to deal with an audience and control your emotions.

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