8 Brain Benefits to Learning a Second Language
The benefits of learning a second language are plenty. Understanding and learning all the aspects of a language—like phonetics, writing, and speaking—is a hard task for your brain, proving them to be the ultimate brain workout.
Improving your overall brain health is one of the many outcomes of learning a new language. In fact, it’s one of the most practical, effective, and enjoyable ways to resist aging, expand your intelligence, and sharpen your mind!
Decades ago, people believed that being bilingual or multilingual had negative effects on a person, leading to confusion, inability to multitask, and cognitive impairment. Today, studies show that second language acquisition is quite the opposite and prove the importance of learning a language.
In this article, I answer the following questions:
- What are the brain advantages of speaking more than one language?
- How is it possible to gain the benefits of learning a language?
Read on to discover the brain benefits of learning a second language as a child or as an adult.
¡Aprendamos de los beneficios cerebrales de aprender un segundo idioma!
Let’s learn about the brain benefits of learning a second language!
This Is Your Brain on Language
The human brain is magnificent. With more than 100 trillion neuronal connections and impulses that travel at 268 miles per hour, nothing in the known universe is more complex than your brain.
Several distinct regions in the brain form an interconnected network to make language comprehension, expression and learning possible. As you actively study a second language, these areas light up and strengthen their connections, resulting in a healthier, more robust brain.
Your brain on language promotes faster responses, better adaptation, and more competent cognitive function.
According to the specialist in language educational products, Dan Roitman, “As a language learner, you’ll not only become a more conscious thinker and listener who can communicate clearly and think creatively, but you’ll also gain the most significant benefit of multilingualism: a broader, more global perspective.”
Are you ready to reap the benefits of learning a second language?
Learning a Second Language: Children vs Adults
A second language is any language you learn that isn’t your first or native language.
People used to think that only children could learn a second language successfully thanks to their sponge-like brains. Luckily, decades of research have proven this to be untrue.
It’s easier for a child to imitate the phonetic sounds of a new language, but as an adult, you have the capacity to follow a disciplined learning routine, implement complex grammar structures sooner, and reap the brain benefits of learning a second language.
Scientists are determined to prove the brain benefits of bilingualism. Considering that our brain function starts to decline in speed, memory, and execution at age 25, it’s pretty clear that it’s an excellent idea to learn a second language in adulthood!
How long does it take to learn a new language? Depends on the language you choose. According to the US Foreign Service Institute, it takes around 480 hours to learn Spanish.
In the following list of benefits, we’ll explore the rewards that children receive at an early age for learning a second language as well as the benefits for adults.
Benefits of Learning a Second Language as a Child
1. Better Executive Functions
Benefits and improvements are evident in people as young as seven months old. Agnes Kovacs led a study in the International School for Advanced Studies, where babies were exposed to two languages at home. They showed more executive functions—such as memory and self-control—than babies in a monolingual household.
As a child, functions start to evolve and so do the studies that follow. According to another study, bilingual 5-year-olds answered faster and better in memory games.
2. Creativity and Achievement
The cognitive development in children and teenagers who are bilingual or multilingual have shown benefits of learning a second language, such as being more creative and doing better on tests.
A study conducted in the US and the UK during the World Wars showed that bilinguals at a young age weren’t focused, performed poorly in school, and had confusion or developmental delays. Scientists even thought that the exposure to more than one language could lead to a split personality and other mental illnesses!
Hence, the word spread that it was a terrible idea to learn a second language. Scientists later discovered that this study was flawed, as the subjects probably had PTSD due to trauma. The myth wasn’t debunked until the 1960s when doctors conducted more controlled research.
3. “Feel-Good” Chemicals in Your Brain
One of the benefits of learning a second language is the unleashing of “feel-good” brain chemicals. Students were shown to have less stress and more self-confidence, self-esteem, and better self-image according to the National Education Association (NEA).
4. Problem Solving and Cognitive Flexibility
During the same study by the NEA, they realized that bilinguals scored better at solving problems and memory skills, as well as listening aptitudes and cognitive flexibility—which is another term for “adaptation.”
See also: 10 Spanish audio lessons for beginners
5. Metalinguistic Awareness
Bilingual children show abilities when it comes to associations and the abstract parts of a second language. They can understand better how consonants or vowels have different phonetics in different languages.
6. Math and Verbal Aptitude
Students who have studied a second language for at least four years get better scores on the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). They rank better than their monolingual counterparts, specifically in math and verbal aptitudes.
Benefits of Learning a Second Language as an Adult
7. Prevents Mind Aging
According to scientists, learning something new leads to increasing volume in gray matter which leads to neuron stimulation and creation of new neural pathways. That volume points out the quantity of neurons and dendrites—neuronal branches—that we have.
This implies that you have more cells, therefore information and impulses can travel faster. This way, our brain gets used to more activity. It is called “neuroplasticity” and it’s what children have when it comes to learning new skills.
On the other hand, white matter is the fat that covers the connections between neurons. Thanks to it, information travels efficiently around your brain. One of the benefits of learning a second language is that those connections become stronger according to a study.
A study involving intelligence tests showed that elderly people could outscore their younger selves even after only one intensive course week of exposure to a foreign language.
8. Prevents Mental Illness
A new study conducted by York and Baycrest University, published in the paper reveals a game-changing fact. The people that participated in this study—ages 65 to 75—showed cognitive and brain improvements even without becoming fully bilingual.
With only 16 weeks, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, scientists started seeing differences and positive results. After this, evidence points that one of the main benefits of learning a second language is that it has a protective consequence against mental illnesses like dementia.
In fact, 35% of dementia risk can be erased by adding lifestyle changes to our day-to-day lives. Monolinguals are more prone to dementia than bilingual or multilingual people.
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The benefits of learning a second language enhance memory, increase sustained focus, help you with mathematical and verbal functions, compensate for damage, raise your cognitive reserve, help you cope and adapt faster, and lower the risk of mental illnesses.
One of the best languages to learn, based on the number of people who speak it, is Spanish. Learning Spanish involves interlocking levels of brain functions that promote intellectual health. Other benefits of learning a second language include getting to know other cultures, connecting with more people, going abroad to study or retire, and having once-in-a-lifetime experiences outside your comfort zone.
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