I am glad to present you a guest post written by Lucia Leite of lingholic.com — one of the greatest language learning blogs out there. Now let’s discover the brain benefits of learning a second language.
Learning a foreign language can be hugely rewarding but also at times challenging. However, with hard work, comes significant payoff. Besides increasing your oral, written, and comprehension skills, learning a new language strengthens your mind in some unexpected ways.
So the next time you think about taking up that long term goal of finally cracking open your Chinese for Beginners textbook, or rekindling your fluency in French, you can rest assured your investing in your brain’s increased ability to function too.
Growing up bilingually can carry a host of benefits, including cultural exposure, educational and professional benefits. While it’s said that production of language may be slightly delayed in bilingual children, they soon catch up—by the age of three, the language gap between monolingual and multilingual speakers usually closes.
Fortunately, a healthy brain isn’t limited to speakers who have been speaking two or more languages from a young age. As it turns out, any individual—from child to adult—who takes on a second language dramatically increases brain elasticity.
Most notably, when learning a language, aptitude also increases for math, reading, and vocabulary tasks in a person’s native language. Memory skills get a boost too. That’s thanks to the brain’s hippocampus, which is responsible for creating and storing memories. Being able to understand foreign language from a native speaker increases a person’s listening abilities overall. Especially in an academic setting, these skills are paramount.
The benefits carry over to other aspects of concentration and spacial awareness. Multilingual speakers are said to be able to manage many tasks at once, and yet maintain acute attention to each. They’re able to switch between tasks, and also go about solving problems in a creative way.
A study conducted by Swedish scientists in 2012 using MRI technology, determined new parts of the brain that light up when a speaker masters a new language. Interestingly, the results indicated the brain actually grew—particularly the hippocampus of the cerebral cortex during language acquisition.
Functioning between languages also has social perks. Because of exposure to foreign dialects, communication styles, and ways of life, speakers of many languages are able to more easily understand someone else’s perspective. They’re also more apt at waiting out long terms goals rather than immediate gratification, since learning a language takes time.
Furthermore, the tests revealed the root cause of common mispronunciation between languages. Take the “l” and “r” sound produced by native Japanese speakers. The MRI showed that for Japanese students learning, for example, there was no distinguishable brain activity between the two sounds. Consequently, it becomes quite challenging for native Japanese speakers to produce the sounds. As a result, software developers have created programs which produce exaggerated variations of the sounds for non-native speakers to more easily pick up on. So while certain languages may come more naturally to some learners and not to others, when put to the test, our brain can adapt over time.
Although many research studies will claim adults learn a new language at a much slower pace than young children, it’s far from impossible.
Even amongst elderly language learners, brain plasticity showed increased movement after language exposure.
When you learn a foreign language, you also begin to understand more fully how your native language is formed. An increased awareness of grammar and verbal tenses in a target language will subsequently cause you to think about how they’re formed in your native language as well.
Learning a language has long-term benefits as well, including staving off serious illnesses and fatal diseases.
While current market medications for Alzheimer’s are said to hold back symptoms by 6-12 months, exposure to a new language is said to push symptoms back by four or five years. As a whole, when children and adults study a language, they reduce the risk of memory loss later on in life.
What’s more, taking on more than one new language can exponentially increase these benefits.
You don’t have to be fully fluent to reap the benefits of learning language either. Start to study Korean, Arabic or Portuguese today, and you’ll be on your way to a healthier noggin for years to come.