Learning a new language in a globalized world has numerous practical benefits. In the past, popular convention posed that it was better to excel in one language rather than speak two poorly and that speaking more than one language would confuse the mind. However, this proved false. Since then, researchers have found incredible psychological advantages to acquiring a second (or third or fourth) tongue. While many of these studies involved subjects who had learned a second language early on, new language learners also profit from bilingualism. Simply put, learning a new language provides a mental work out and can help reshape the way we think. The brain can adapt its language circuitry at any age allowing for extras that include:
- Brain growth – according to a Swedish study published in the journal, Neuroimage, the hippocampus (area of the brain used to learn new material) as well as three areas in the cerebral cortex (the grey area related to language learning) actually grew in size.
- Staving off effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s – the higher the degree of bilingualism, the more likely a later onset was seen for these disorders.
- Improved listening skills, observation skills, and spotting misleading information.
- Sharper at distinguishing other languages other than your own as well as improvement in your own native tongue.
- Quicker at switching from one task to another – for bilingualists, both languages are always running in the brain, no matter which language they are speaking at a given moment. This results in stronger working memory and analytical thinking, reasoning, planning and, according to a study from the University of Chicago, improved decision-making.
- Greater attention span, ignoring distractions, retaining information, and increased creativity.
- Improved awareness of language construction regarding grammar, sentence structure, and conjugations.
What’s more, since new language acquisition forces your brain to recognize and derive meaning for communication, students who study foreign languages tend to score better on standardized tests particularly in vocabulary, reading, and math. Whether it’s for these benefits or other innumerable reasons, it isn’t surprising that the majority of people in the world will eventually learn to speak more than one language within their lifetime. Charlemagne once said, “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” Taken all together, perhaps the biggest boon to bilingualism is the boost in confidence you gain in your ever-growing skills.
Written by Marlene Martzke for English Classes by Skype