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The Mental Benefits of Learning a New Language

Bonjour! Konnichiwa! Guten tag! These are ways of saying hello in different languages. But language is not only a collection of words. What makes language interesting is that it is constantly evolving and it shows the culture and history of the people who speak it. In a way, it is a summarized version of a […]

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Bonjour!

Konnichiwa!

Guten tag!

These are ways of saying hello in different languages.

But language is not only a collection of words. What makes language interesting is that it is constantly evolving and it shows the culture and history of the people who speak it. In a way, it is a summarized version of a country’s culture, history, and way of life.

What could be more interesting than the words we say to each other every single day, right?

Once you learn a new language, you will be opened to a whole new world. It also helps that locals will be nicer to you. Once they get over the shock that a foreigner like you speaks their language, that is. We can talk about the numerous benefits of learning a new language, but this article focuses on the mental benefits that learning a new language can give you:

Increases Cognitive Reserve

All humans have an inborn cognitive reserve which enables our brains to maintain function as our bodies naturally age, but our ability to retain cognition as we age differs. Your cognitive reserve is basically your shield from mental diseases. The higher cognitive reserve you have, the stronger your shield is. Therefore, speaking another language gives you cognitive advantage. It is called an “advantage” because compared to those who do not have a high cognitive reserve, you will be able to endure more diseases before your brain suffers from cognitive dysfunction.

Based on a research from Thomas Bak, speaking two languages is great training for your executive functions: working memory, inhibitory control, and flexible thinking. Your executive functions are responsible for basic skills such as planning and prioritization, starting and finishing tasks, and regulating emotions. Speaking two languages is great training because bilingualism in daily life includes frequently shifting between two languages — each with their own grammar structure, writing system, pronunciation, accent, and vocabulary. In other words, learning a new language increases your cognitive reserve. If you play video games, it is essentially like giving your character an extra life powerup.

Stalls Symptoms of Dementia

A research published in the American Academy of Neurology shows that bilingual patients only exhibit symptoms of dementia 5.1 years later than monolingual patients. According to another study, bilinguals who studied a third language had a lower risk of CIND (cognitively impared, no dementia). As a matter of fact, multilingualism was correlated with a 7-fold protection from CIND. It is even more efficient if you are multilingual early on in life or learn it later but at a fast pace. The researchers attribute this to increased cognitive reserve.

Dementia, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is a syndrome that includes the deterioration in cognitive function (thinking, memory, calculation, etc). Dementia is progressive in nature and results from mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. Data shows that Alzheimer’s disease is one of the common causes of death among older people; along with heart disease, respiratory disease, and cancer. Correspondingly, a study published in Neuropsychologia declares that speaking multiple languages daily also delays the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This might be because bilingualism and multilingualism improves brain plasticity and increases grey matter density.

Enhances Working Memory (and Improves Basic Skills)

A study that compared the working memory of monolingual and bilingual children showed that the latter outperformed the former in various areas, namely: metacognitive awareness, problem solving, flexible thinking, and attention span. The study also showed that bilinguals had a significant advantage with completing tasks that demanded more executive functions. This could be attributed to how bilingual children need to process two languages, necessitating their brains have a higher working memory capacity than those who only needed to process one language.

In fact, babies who were raised in a bilingual household are found to have higher working memories compared to babies raised in a monolingual household. This helped them be better at reading, writing, listening, calculation, and other skills.

Here’s an analogy to help you understand this concept better: when buying the latest computers, one of the things we look at is how much the RAM (Random Access Memory) is. If you don’t know what RAM does, it basically helps your computer perform tasks you need it to do such as opening an application, loading a website, or playing Fortnite in your free time. So if you don’t look at the RAM when you go computer shopping, then you should.

We all want higher RAM on our computers because more RAM = less lag. This is true when you are using a lot of different applications in one sitting and especially true when you constantly switch between those applications.

Improves Focus and Multitasking

If learning a second language helps improve both your focus and multitasking, there’s no reason why we should not at least try it. Both of these are useful skills to have when you’re in school, at work, running personal errands, or living life in general.

A paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience mentions how people who speak two languages can more quickly switch from one task to another. This means that they have better multitasking skills and have more cognitive flexibility. Furthermore, another research says that bilinguals are less prone to distractions, and as such, have more control over their attention span.

Strengthens White Matter

Bilinguals have larger volumes of white matter in their brains compared to monolinguals, according to research. What is white matter? Basically, the brain has both gray matter and white matter. Gray matter can be found in the outer layer of the brain while white matter resides beneath it. For years, scientists have only focused their attention on gray matter until it was discovered that white matter also, well, matters.

White matter contains a lot of communication cables. These cables link neurons from different regions of the brain. These regions need to communicate well in order to make everything in your body function properly. Learning a new language strengthens white matter. For most of us who are not well-versed in medical or scientific terms: more white matter = better connections = faster reaction time + faster learning. Therefore, learning a new language literally makes you smarter.

Conclusion

Whether you believe in the information above that shows the mental benefits of learning a new language or not (you should because science quite literally proves it), learning a new language has no side effects. It gives you a lot of pros and none of the cons, except investing time for studying.

If you’re ready to get started on your language learning journey, some of the best languages to learn are Mandarin Chinese, German, and Korean. For more details, click here for an extensive list of the 15 best languages to learn in 2020. According to that article, some of the easiest languages to learn are Norwegian, Swedish, and French.

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