Research has shown that it’s important to “exercise” your brain and language learning is one of the most effective and practical ways to do this. Speaking and learning a foreign language gives your brain a good workout, keeps your mind sharp, and defends your brain against aging.
Surprisingly, being bilingual wasn't always seen as a good thing. Some educators and scientists thought that learning a foreign language, especially from a young age, had a negative effect on brain development and caused confusion. They also claimed being bilingual would hinder academic performance. We now know that exactly the opposite is true. Science now shows that learning a second language helps strengthen the brain.
Here are some ways that speaking or learning a second language can improve your brain function:
- People who speak two or more languages have significantly better overall cognitive abilities than those who speak one.
- Multi-linguals are more observant of their surroundings and have better focus and concentration. Sherlock Holmes was a skilled polyglot.
- Studies have shown that people who learn a second language, even in adulthood, can better avoid cognitive decline in older age. Learning a second language has lowered risks of Alzheimer’s and bilingualism has been show to delay the age at onset of dementia.
- While learning a second language, you build and improve your multi-tasking skills. Multilingual people are skillful at switching between different systems of speech, writing, and structure. A study from the Pennsylvania State University, states that this “juggling” skill makes them better multi-taskers.
- The brain is often likened to a muscle, because it functions better with exercise. Learning a language involves memorizing rules and vocabulary, and all of this “exercise” helps strengthen that mental “muscle.” While exercising your brain with language learning your overall memory is improved. Studies show that bilinguals are better at remembering lists, names, and directions.
- Developing improved English language skills are also a benefit of studying a second language. While learning a foreign language you focus more on grammar, conjugations, and sentence structure, things you may not have thought of since middle school. Being aware of language structure can make you a more effective communicator and writer in both languages.
- Finally, speaking more than one language means you’ll have access to new words, cultures and opportunity to travel!
If learning a new language seems impossible or overwhelming to you, it still pays to give it a try. Even a little foreign language study can produce amazing brain benefits.
So which foreign language do you want to learn – French, Spanish, Italian, German? It’s time to hit the gym.