There are over seven thousand languages that exist all over the world. The four most spoken languages are English, Mandarin, Hindi and Spanish. Learning a second language allows you to be a part of a community of people with a common trait with a unique culture. The ability to learn a new language allows for humans to communicate with each other our feelings, desires and queries of the world we experience. Through this communication, we learn about each other and respective cultures. However, there are additional amazing benefits as to why we should learn a new language. It actually helps our brain development and cognition!
- Our Brain Expands in Size
Learning a foreign language can help increase the size of our hippocampus and cerebral cortex. The hippocampus is important in the formation of memory, including our spatial and navigation memories. The cerebral cortex is vital for receiving sensory information and perceiving patterns of sensation such as lines, edges, colors and sounds that are associated with a word. By physically learning a language like Spanish or Italian, we can increase these two functional areas of our brain to increase our memory.
Study published in NeuroImage: Swedish scientists used an MRI machine to visibly see the effect of learning a foreign language on the brain. The study done used an experimental group of young military recruits that learned Arabic, Russian or Dari at an intensive level. The control group was a group of students who studied medical and cognitive science. To summarize the study, the results showed that there was an increase in the hippocampus volume and in cortical thickness. These findings reveal that the structural changes are directly correlated to the foreign language acquisition and that these brain regions serve language functions.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1053811912006581?via%3Dihub
- Better Attention Spans and Concentration
A study done at the Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences shows that young adults perform better at attention tests and have better concentration than those that only knew one language. “Bilinguals performed better than predicted from their baseline cognitive abilities, with strongest effects on general intelligence” (Bak).
In the study of about 853 people, participants were first tested in 1947 at the age of 11; they retested in 2008. They were given a series of general intelligence, memory, speed of information processing, reading and verbal fluency examinations to test their cognitive functions. While there were limitations to the study such as not including socioeconomic status and immigration, the study did show that the cognitive effects of bilingualism had a consistent pattern. Bilingualism affected reading, verbal fluency and general intelligences to a higher degree than reasoning and speed of processing.https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ana.24158
- Increased Connectivity and Protection
By learning a new language, you are exercising your brain in all aspects. From recognition, to cognition, to memorizing, to motor skills and speech. We are using our nervous system to carry out the action of learning a new language but also speaking with others, which is no easy feat. Learning a new language doesn’t happen overnight. It can take years to become fluent and some even dedicate their livelihoods to fully focus on learning a language along with the culture that comes with it. The years humans spend learning a new language actually trains our brain’s neural networks. The same Swedish study discussed earlier also allowed researchers to discover that the brain’s grey matter increases. Grey matter is a substance that connects the different areas of the brain together. Grey matter is important because it is associated with memory, emotions, muscle control, speech and many other functions. If learning a new language means we increase grey matter in our brain, we are also increasing our ability to do daily functions.
Being bilingual or multilingual also suggests that humans get increased protection from cognitive diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. The increased blood flow to the brain, increasing neuron activity and stimulation of the brain can help make up for the disease parts of the brain. The onset of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can be postponed by almost four to five years. Of course, this no guarantee as there is more research that needs to be done on this topic.