If you’ve always wanted to learn one or two foreign languages, now is probably the best time to do it. Motivate yourself with the fact that stimulating your brain by learning a new language can actually help your mental health in the long run. It’s time to stop seeing your foreign language studies as a chore: here are some studies that show how challenging yourself with new languages and dialects can be the best thing for your brain!
- This is your mind’s best workout
Maria Christina Cuervo, a Spanish and linguistics professor at the University of Toronto, says that learning more than one language is similar to exercise, except the muscle you’re developing is the brain. The ‘workout’ part comes when you have to exert mental effort to juggle different vocabularies and dictionary definitions. Ensuring you are constantly learning how to speak and read in another language strengthens the part of your brain which processes information and the focus needed to access new knowledge.
- Increase your mind’s capacity to retain information
Memory is probably the most affected function when you choose to start learning new languages. Current evidence suggests that there is a direct link between learning new words and syntaxes and a boost in your capacity to remember more things. Additionally, you begin to pay more attention to non-verbal cues such as body language cues and facial tics, which can communicate the words in a different context. Such practice can increase your brain’s overall mental alertness.
- Avoid ‘cognitive traps’
Multilingual people are better at avoiding what some studies refer to as cognitive traps—defined as simple mistakes in general spelling and comprehension which our mind tends to make when we take shortcuts with words. This is the reason we can still understand typos even though they’re so far from the real spelling. Learning new languages allows people to be more resistant to mental conditioning and psychological framing techniques, which could be the reason why you suddenly want to buy products from watching TV even though you don’t need it. Learning languages expands your brain’s capacity to understand things from a more level-headed perspective, as there are existing theories explaining an emotional distance from second, third or fourth languages learned.
Fight the signs of mental decline and memory loss
Alzheimer’s and dementia, specifically. As per Dr. Thomas Bak, a lecturer of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, you can potentially delay cognitive decline because knowing more than one language has an incredibly attuned attention mechanism. This is their latent ability to understand and focus on unique details attributed to a language. The American Academy of Neurology published a peer-reviewed article that reveals bilingualism can delay the onset of dementia by as much as four and a half years compared to someone who only speaks one language. Dr. Bak suggests that polyglots are better than most at paying attention to a wider variety of communication cues, from performing visual tasks to multitasking—abilities that develop from constantly switching mental gears when speaking in more than one language. The best part about this study is that it does not require absolute mastery of the language for it to work. All that matters is that there is a significant effort in learning.
Meanwhile, Chandan Narayan, a linguistics professor at York University, adds that while there is a cognitive benefit to being bilingual, there should also be a focus on the humanizing aspect of learning more than your mother tongue. Nothing makes the world a better place than by knowing how to comfortably communicate with people from all walks of life. The social, cultural impact of this action is a strong case for learning a different language.
- You get better at speaking English
Surprisingly, if your native or first language is English, learning another language can actually improve the way you speak in your mother tongue. This is because your focus is now drawn into the mechanics of the languages – from grammar, structure, conjugation, and proper use of definition depending on the context. When you become more aware of the way another language speaks and constructs sentences to form ideas, you develop a heightened sense of communication, writing, and editing in English.
- Get a bigger brain
This might be a no-brainer, given all the other benefits you can get with learning more than one language. But there is a standout study in 2014 from ScienceDirect journals that shows bigger brains (aka the cortical thickness) are associated with higher intelligence. The brain structure literally increases the more languages are learned. Getting down to the nitty-gritty of it, bilingual speakers have also shown to have more grey matter in the brain, especially in areas that are responsible for attention, inhibition, and short-term memory. These are backed up by recent research from the Georgetown University Medical Center as well.
It doesn’t matter whether you want to pick up a Mandarin textbook, a Nihongo pamphlet, or a French worksheet. As early as you can, start pushing your mind’s capacity to retain more info, and learn a new language! Not only will it benefit your brain in the long run, but you’ll be able to enjoy communicating with all sorts of people across the globe too.