Learning a second language has many cognitive and social benefits. From boosting brainpower to warding off Alzheimer disease, improving memory and even concentration levels. Learning another language will also teach you to listen better, see the world from a different perspective, increase your social networks and boost career prospects (maybe even earn a higher salary). Most of all it will give you the ability to eavesdrop on conversations spoken in your target language!
Although I think that the coolest thing about learning a second language is that it makes learning a third, fourth, fifth or beyond language easier. So the next time someone asks why you are learning another language or makes the assumption that you will never actually use the language you are learning explain to them the benefits of being bilingual…
Think of your cognitive functioning as a muscle and the more you exercise this muscle the bigger it will become! The more alien that the second language is to you then the better the workout. Reviewing what you have learned will reinforce your language skills and the more vital areas of the brain will grow. An example of this can be drawn from a study that showed taxi drivers had an enlarged hippocampus in comparison to the average Joe. Although the whole chicken and egg could be applied here. Did people with good memories become taxi drivers because they had better memories or did the hippocampus become bigger because taxi drivers were memorizing and reinforcing the memories of different locations on a regular basis? Research does back the latter.
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” – Hebb
Cognitive neuropsychologist, Doctor Abutalebi, has said that it is possible to pinpoint the bilingual people from monolinguals by using brain scans. This is because bilinguals have a much larger area of gray matter in their left hemisphere – how awesome is that! So it seems the more you are using you’re brain the stronger, bigger and more flexible the corresponding areas will become.
2. Improved IQ and Creativity Levels
Being bilingual not only leads to greater creativity it can also improve your IQ levels too! Bilinguals tend to score higher on intelligence tests. It does make sense if we consider that the language we speak and the vocabulary we use can shape our understanding of the world around us. We can only process the thoughts that we have words for. To learn another language, where vocabulary doesn’t quite overlap, unlocks different ways of perceiving the world around us world. It also makes us more understanding of other cultures.
“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” – Charlemagne
3. Memory Boost
Being bilingual also helps to strengthen working memory. Research has shown that babies brought up in bilingual households have stronger working memories than those brought up with only one language. Having a stronger working memory leads to better abilities in mental calculation, reading, and other vital skills.
“Positive effects of bilingualism were found on both episodic memory and semantic memory at all age levels.” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, (2003).
In other words, bilingual people have better memory recall on verbal and subject tasks, whether both in free recall and cued recall.
4. Delaying Dementia
Recent studies have shown that being bilingual can delay Alzheimer’s disease by people at high risk of it by as much as 5 years. To put this in perspective learning another language can be more beneficial in the fight of dementia than some of the latest drugs!
“So as comprehension is the last thing to go,
I hope you can hear me, I pray that you know,
It is now that I carry you.”
5. Improved Listening Skills
Studies have also shown that being bilingual can improve listening skills. This is due to the brain having to work harder to distinguish between the different types of sounds languages have.
“Everything in writing begins with language. Language begins with listening.” -Winterson
Bilingual people have improved executive functioning meaning they are better able to adapt to change and switch from one task to another more quickly.
“Juggling is an illusion. … In reality, the balls are being independently caught and thrown in rapid succession. … It is actually task switching.” – Keller
7. Improved Concentration Levels
A study conducted by Bialystok and Craik in 2010 showed that bilinguals have stronger control over their attention and are better able to limit distractions!
“Give whatever you are doing and whomever you are with the gift of your attention”. – Rohn
8. A Different Perspective
Learning a new language can literally change the way you see the world. For example, Japanese has basic terms for light and dark blue that we do not have in English. Therefore learning a language may help you perceive colour and many other things in different ways.
❝The limits of my language are the limits of my world.❞
9. Improvement to Native Language
Learning a second language can draw the focus of attention to abstract rules and language structures meaning it will also improvement your native language too!
“You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.” -Willans
10. Social Networking & Cultural Awareness
Research has shown that being bilingual not only increases networking but improves career progression and can lead to higher salaries too – awesome! It also makes traveling abroad a lot easier. It’s a great way to connect with people and make new friends. Plus it gives you greater cultural awareness and you will be able to enjoy a great variety of music and films in another language.
“You can get much deeper into the places you visit if you know the language, otherwise, you’re just a tourist.” Lichtman
Besides being fun and intensely rewarding, travel has many health benefits, from making you more active, expanding your mind and even improving decision making!
Athanasopoulos, P., et al. (2011), ‘Representation of colour concepts in bilingual cognition: The case of Japanese blues’, Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14(1), pp. 9–17. doi: 10.1017/S1366728909990046.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., & Luk, G. (2012). Bilingualism: consequences for mind and brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(4), 240-250.
Ellen B,. et al., (2010), Delaying the onset of Alzheimer Disease: Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181fc2a1cNeurology November 9, 2010 vol. 75 no. 19 1726-1729.
Kaye H., (ed), (2010), Cognitive Psychology. The Open University Press, Milton Keynes.
Murphy K. and Nash P., (2007), Learning and Memory in Learning and Language. The Open University Press, Milton Keynes.
Grayson, A.and Oates J., (2006), Cognitive and Language Development in Children. The Open University Press, Milton Keynes.
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