Many people today are looking for ways to exercise their most important muscle; their brain. If that’s you, and you’d like to know how learning a 2nd language can improve your cognitive function, read on! We’ve got data, research, and information ahead that can help you do just that and keep your brain sharp as the years go by.
Over Half of the World is Bilingual
It’s been estimated that more than half of the population of planet earth is, to some extent or another, bilingual or multi-lingual (able to speak three or more languages). Indeed, language is one of the primary constructs of the human experience, connecting processes in the brain that deal with both language and numerous other tasks.
Scientists now know that learning a language shapes the structures of the brain. The reason why is that language is the most intense cognitive human experience we all share. Think about it this way; of all of the activities that humans perform, language consumes by far the most significant portion of the brain’s thinking capacity.
For example, if you study music and play an instrument (which is also great for the brain’s cognitive abilities), you can only do that for so many hours in a day. On the other hand, most of us talk and think in our respective languages every minute of the day. We even use language when we’re sleeping, communicating, if you will, in our dreams.
Learning a Language Has Far-Reaching Benefits
Many studies have been performed over the years showing that learning a new language is the key to keeping the human brain focused, alert, and entirely at attention.
For example, this study showed that younger folks who knew two languages performed better on tests later in life than their one-language peers. It also showed that their concentration levels were better while taking tests. Amazingly, researchers did the initial testing in 1947 and, 61 years later, when the test subjects were retested, those who could speak two languages did far better on reading and general intelligence tests.
Learning a 2nd Language Improve’s Your Thinking and Memory Skills
One of the exciting things about learning a second language is that, while you’re learning, your brain’s ability to focus is improved significantly. That’s because the brain’s language center is highly flexible, and learning a new language flexes it to the max. It’s similar to how HIIT workouts stress your body to the max and allow you to get in shape faster while losing weight more quickly.
Learning a Second Language Increases the Size of Your Brain
One theory about intelligence is that the more brain mass a person has, the more intelligent they should be. (Big heads = smarter people?) Although it might seem like a silly notion, a Swedish study showed that when adults learned a 2nd language, their brains physically increased in size. (As shown on MRI scans.)
Of the two groups studied, both were given similarly complex mental tasks to perform. Those who studied a new language saw a size increase in their brain mass while, even though they were learning something difficult, the 2nd group’s brain mass did not increase.
Children Raised with Two Languages Have Stronger Cognitive Abilities
Raising a child bi-lingually was shown in this study to improve a child’s cognitive abilities more than children raised speaking only one language. Interestingly, the study showed children still enhanced their cognitive abilities even if they weren’t “learning” two languages simultaneously but just hearing them regularly.
The study found that bilingualism (the ability to speak fluently in 2 or more languages) improved the brain’s executive functions, helped the child ignore distractions better, and helped them switch more easily from one task to another without going off-task.
Learning a 2nd Language Improves Executive Functionality of the Brain
One of the most significant advantages of learning a new language is that it improves the brain’s executive function. Executive function, more or less, is the skill that allows a person to manage and direct their attention when working on a specific task or project. It’s also a person’s ability to plan things out in advance, ignoring irrelevant information and focusing on what’s most important.
When you know and speak two languages (or more), those languages are automatically and subconsciously activated throughout the day. In other words, your brain is constantly managing the languages inside of it so that, when you speak, the correct words come out of your mouth. (It’s constantly working out!)
The same area of the brain responsible for reducing distractions when doing something brain-intensive is the one used to separate one language from another. That task doesn’t even have to be a language but can be anything you need to accomplish, from writing a blog article to figuring out what the best route is to get to your local grocery store. In short, the muscle memory created when learning a 2nd language can be helpful when learning many other new skills and performing a wide variety of different tasks.
Learning a 2nd Language as an Adult Improves Cognitive Ability
For years, scientists believed that learning a language was only capable at a young age. After a person became an adult, they thought it was nearly impossible to learn a new language perfectly. Today, however, they know that this is a false assumption as many adults have acquired a new language successfully and can speak it fluently.
Bilingual Speaker’s Brains Compensate for Brain Deterioration
One of the most interesting findings of learning a new language is that, even as a person’s brain begins to deteriorate from age, the connections formed due to being bilingual help it to compensate. Scientists believe this happens because a bilingual person’s brain can switch from a defective brain pathway to an alternate pathway, thus keeping them mentally sharp.
This theory is referred to as “cognitive compensation.” It’s also why scientists believe learning a language later in life can prevent the onset of brain-destroying diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
This happens because picking up a 2nd language is incredibly complex. It involves learning sounds, words, sentences, syntax, grammar, syllables, and more. Indeed, it’s likely the best “workout” a brain can get, improving itself immensely as the new language becomes more entrenched.
From all the available data, there seems to be no question that learning a 2nd language, even later in life, is one of the best things you can do to keep your memory sharp and concentration focused. The data also shows that raising a child bilingually is one of the best things you can do for their brain health and to boost their intelligence later in life. En resumen, ¡aprender un nuevo idioma es una tarea muy importante para tu cerebro! (In short, learning a new language is a very important task for your brain!)