Speaking foreign languages is sexy

February 1, 2013 at 10:28 am

Photo: Leo Alvarez

Back in the hazy days of 2004, a British journalist contacted 270 dating agencies. This was not because he was really desperate to find a partner but because he had a question to ask them.

He wanted to know if they asked their clients about foreign languages and why.

His study found that 97% asked their clients if they had a second language. The most common justification was that people who speak a foreign language are considered sexier and more intelligent than monoglots.

That’s right, speaking a second language makes you more attractive and gives you an air of intelligence.

This peer-reviewed piece in the renowned scientific journal Yahoo! Answers seemingly confirms the attractiveness of people who speak more than one language.

So what attributes do language learners have that could possibly make them more attractive?

Worldliness

Speaking another language fluently shows that you have seen some of the world. And that you have engaged with the places you have been.

If you spent a college semester in Paris that’s great, but if you spent your semester in Paris and learned good French then you really engaged with the town.

There is also a whiff of glamour about being able to speak certain languages, particularly ones that suggest you know the rules of polo.

Dedication

Everyone has tried learning foreign languages while in school, but few in the English-speaking world take this any further. The lasting impression is that learning a foreign language is hard, only for the smart and dedicated.

If you’ve taken your language learning to the point where you can have a conversation in a second language, you will know that learning can be fun too. Especially when that conversation is with someone you really want to communicate with.

Advanced tongue and lip skills

Can you roll your rrrrrrrrr’s? Drop a Zulu click into conversation? Make that Swedish /ɧ/ sound? Not only are you en route to becoming this guy, you are hot stuff. Your mouth moves in ways that others do not.

You are a better long-term bet

Studies have suggested that bilingual people have a greater resistance to Dementia than monolingual people. Maybe not the thing that sets hearts aflutter, but certainly a selling point if you are playing the long game.

But is language learning only for the intelligent?

The funny thing is that intelligence and language learning ability are not as tightly correlated as you may assume. As linguist Muriel Saville-Troike points out in Introducing Second Language Acquisition, different people have different aptitudes for learning a language: when acquiring a first language, it is not always the most intelligent children who start to speak first.

The same is true of learning a second language: people have different abilities that are not directly related to intelligence (although memory helps a lot). After all, the overwhelming majority of people are able to learn a first language without conscious effort.

Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti was neither the sexiest nor the most intelligent man of all time. That was Roger Moore.

But the truth remains, speaking a second language frequently appears near the top of things that people find sexy. So bonne chance!

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