The benefits of learning a language for your brain

Studies suggest that learning a second language is beneficial for the brain. In addition to developing a speaker’s cognitive skills, learning a new language stimulates pleasure zones and improves the ability to prioritize tasks.

 Here is a non-exhaustive list of the benefits of language learning.

Speaking several languages helps you multitask 

Studies suggest that learning another language can help us organize the challenges of everyday life. Switching between two languages develops cognitive abilities and enhances the capacity to prioritize tasks. Bilinguals are also better able to work on several projects at the same time. “Bilinguals have two sets of language rules in mind, and their brains apparently are wired to toggle back and forth between them depending on the circumstances,” says Peggy McCardle of the US National Institute for Child Health and Human Development. These linguistic gymnastics have a direct impact on daily tasks and the way they are processed. 

It improves analytical capacity

Speaking several languages also helps prioritize important information and ignore irrelevant details. According to Judith Kroll, professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, bilinguals have a more highly developed analytical capacity than monolinguals. Beyond this purely cognitive aspect, researchers from the University of Chicago have shown that learning a language develops a greater ability in children to perceive others’ intentions. They are better able to grasp the speaker’s point of view, and all the other elements inherent to the dialogue (Who is talking to whom? In what language? What is the context?). Their intuitive powers of perception are thus superior to those of monolingual children. 

It stimulates the brain 

Researchers encourage learning a foreign language at an early age. Since brain plasticity is at its greatest in children, learning a language is much easier and faster than learning as an adult. While it declines with age, brain plasticity is something that can be maintained, particularly through new learning that will stimulate neural wiring and develop cognitive abilities. According to the study Use it or Lose it: How Neurogenesis Keeps the Brain Fit for Learning published in 2012 by Rutgers University, putting neural stem cells to work is the only way to make them functional and thus create new connections. Learning a language contributes to preserving (or slowing the decline) of our mental capacities. 

A source of pleasure

Another language study, conducted by a team of researchers from the Otto Von Gericke University in Germany and the Biomedical Research Institute in Barcelona, showed that learning a new word in another language activated the reward center, which is located in the same pleasure zone as sex! Mastering a new language is a major challenge, but it is also a source of personal growth and fulfillment. The more we progress in a language and the more we master it, the more our self-esteem is strengthened. Moreover, learning a language is also discovering a new culture, and a new way of thinking. This open-mindedness enables us to create connections with others more easily, and therefore to feel socially included, which makes us happier! 

It is good for your memory 

In 2011, a study conducted by a team of Canadian researchers revealed that bilinguals began to experience memory loss one to four years later than monolinguals. The same study demonstrated that learning a second language not only stimulates the brain but also delays the onset of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (including confusion, memory loss or the inability to solve problems). 

Want to delve further into the subject of bilingual education? Check out Fabrice Jaumont’s The Bilingual Revolution: The Future of Education is in Two Languages.

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