Language learning – Why is it the ultimate 21st Century skill?

Group of people conversing in a foreign language

With schools and other educational institutions closed due to Covid-19, students and educators had no alternative but to move their language learning and teaching online. As a result, online language learning tools such as Sanako Connect have seen significant increases in daily usage over the past months. Yet, these increases have been dwarfed by even bigger leaps in the usage of consumer-led, online language learning sites. Their growth has been so dramatic that research company, Technavio, predicts that the global language learning games market will grow by an incredible $ 3.32bn between 2020 and 2024. Technology really seems to benefit language learners.

This blog post identifies five key reasons behind this dramatic growth and outlines why language learning has suddenly become so popular, and why it will stay as an important skill also in the 21st century.


1. Build connections

In many countries around the world, social distancing measures have limited human interaction during the couple of previous years. However, people still recognise that our ability to connect with each other is one of the most rewarding aspects of the human experience.

Being able to communicate with someone in their own language is incredibly powerful and enables language learners to connect with a wide range of people in both their personal and professional lives. Whilst our boundaries are limited by the pandemic, this clearly remains a powerful motivator for many people. 


2. Advance your career

In an ultra-competitive market, job seekers should leverage any advantage to land their dream roles. Having international language skills can therefore be a significant competitive advantage as employers seek professionals who can communicate seamlessly with overseas customers or local foreign-born populations. 

Typically learners have two choices – either choose a language that lots of people speak, like English or Spanish, or focus on a less common language such as Japanese. In the latter case, language fluency enables learners to stand out with a specific skill set that not many people have – this can often lead to hiring bonuses and increased salaries. 


3. Brain benefits

Aside from the benefit of being able to talk to someone in their mother tongue, learning a language also provides many other cognitive benefits. According to the Lead with Languages programme,

“people who speak more than one language have improved memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration, ability to multitask, and better listening skills.”

Reporting in the New York Times goes on to suggest that

“the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks.”


4. Cultural context

Unquestionably, the ability to communicate in another language enables us to immerse ourselves fully within new and different cultures. It opens up (and opens us up to) the arts, culture, food and history of the people who speak that language. In doing so, our newly-developed language skills help build understanding which, in turn, supports increased acceptance, empathy and tolerance. 

Even learning a language by watching multi-lingual programming on Netflix can help. Students of many global languages can listen to conversations, check pronunciations and learn new vocabulary – all while watching the latest smash-hit series!


5. Confidence building

Speaking in your new language lies at the heart of every learner’s experience. Often you’ll be paired with a stranger to practice a particular piece of grammar or asked to stand in front of the class to outline your opinion on a key topic. These are great ways of building your confidence and growing outside of your comfort zone.

Of course, the ultimate challenge is putting your skills to the test by living in, or travelling to a country where your language is spoken. Throwing yourself into the challenge is the only way forward and although you’ll come up against some difficult situations, you’ll find a way through. Every time you do so, your confidence will grow and grow.


If you’re a passionate language teacher and would like to explore how language teaching and learning software tools might support your students’ learning experience, check out our guide to Sanako’s language teaching technology here.