On November 12th, 2016, Hollywood actor Jackie Chan won an Oscar after 56 years in the film industry.
Jackie Chan is the first ever Chinese actor in Hollywood to win the award, and I was so thrilled to see him win it. Chan’s story symbolizes the power of grit and how far your dreams can take you if you never give up.
In pursuit of his dream, Jackie Chan worked tirelessly to learn a new language, a skill that ultimately helped his career flourish and reach new heights in Hollywood.
It is a wonderful story of triumph and proves that learning a foreign language can open so many doors you never thought could open.
I, too, learned a foreign language: Chinese.
More than 10 years ago, I decided to learn Chinese with the goal of reaching near-native fluency. I knew it would be hard, since I had no family or relatives to practice with or learn from. However, I knew I wanted to accomplish this goal. It took patience and hard work, but I eventually reached my goal.
You can, too!
Here are 3 surprising benefits of learning Chinese.
1. Gain keen insight into how our ancestors perceived the world.
One of the reasons I found myself drawn to studying Chinese is because of its long history. I am fascinated by history. The oldest versions of Chinese characters were pictographs that reflect how our ancestors once perceived the world. If you look at China’s ancient writing system, you can get a glimpse of our ancestors’ thoughts and feelings. For example, the Chinese character for “forest” is depicted as a combination of multiple trees. The Chinese verb for “rest” resembles an image of a person leaning against a tree, which encourages readers to visualize someone taking a rest. In a world without smartphones and tablets, this is how they perceived the world. They wrote in a way that reflected what they saw in nature, and that simplicity brings visual clarity in a way the English language does not. I think and feel differently when I speak and write in Chinese.
I can’t quite put my finger on it — it’s just different. It’s visual. It’s fun!
2. Boost your brainpower and memory skills.
Learning a second language can improve your memory, boost your brainpower, and keep your mind in good shape. Even the onset of Alzheimer’s disease is delayed because of bilingualism. In the UK, researchers conducted brain scans of English and Chinese speakers and found that learning Chinese requires the use of both parts of your brain, since it is a tonal language. Unlike English, in Chinese, the definitions of words change in accordance with the speaker’s tone. Scientists claim that English speakers rely mostly on the left hemisphere of the brain, whereas Chinese speakers rely on both hemispheres to interpret tonality and meaning.
3. You and your business can tap into a new market and seize exciting opportunities.
The ability to speak a language that 20% of the world speaks will open doors and broaden the trajectory of your professional career. Imagine being able to share your message with more people across the world. My life has completely changed since I started learning Chinese. Learning Chinese has allowed me to tap into another market and pursue new opportunities outside of the United States. The world is my oyster, and it can be yours too!
Jackie Chan’s extraordinary win is a story of grit and determination, and it is also a reminder that learning a foreign language can open doors in your life. You never know what the future holds. Maybe your biggest opportunity will be in an entirely different market. Learning Chinese has changed my life, and I encourage people to experience it for themselves.
This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Lillian Okoye is the Founder of Fluent In Five. Zero To Fluent® is a language program for global-minded individuals who want to get fluent in lightning speed once and for all.
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