Did you know that learning a second language can boost brain health? Fluency in more than one language offers plenty of benefits, including communicating with people from other cultures. It can also broaden your horizons when it comes to job opportunities. Most people only consider the social aspects of being bilingual, but research shows it can also improve cognition.
And more people than ever have become interested in learning multiple languages. Research reveals that around 22% of children in the U.S. speak a second language besides English at home. Other research shows that about 17% of Americans aged eighteen and older are multilingual.
Ten Ways a Second Language Enhances Brain Health
Learning a second language enhances your world in various ways, including bolstering brain health. This highly coveted skill has plenty of cognitive and emotional benefits, which we will discuss below.
1. A Second Language Improves Learning
Mounting evidence shows that learning a second language can enhance students’ academic performance. Studies found that bilingual students scored higher on reading comprehension and standardized exams than students who only knew English.
Moreover, students didn’t need to become fluent in another language to notice the advantages. Studying a new language for just a hour and a half a week enhanced their cognitive functioning and brain health.
2. Strengthens the Mind
Just like exercise helps build muscles and improves physical health, learning a new language can contribute to a healthy brain. Brain scans of bilingual people revealed they have more grey matter in specific brain regions than monolingual people. Studies also show that speaking multiple languages can rewire the brain and alter its structure.
3. A Second Language Boosts Attention Span
It’s no secret that many people today suffer from shortened attention spans due to myriad distractions. However, a Cambridge study suggests that learning a second language can enhance brain health by increasing attention. The study compared bilingual people to those fluent in only one language.
The bilingual group had higher scores on cognitive tasks that required prolonged concentration. They paid attention for longer durations and found it easier to complete complex tasks. Scientists believe a more sensitive nervous system contributed to increased attention span.
4. Protects Against Neurodegenerative Diseases
Older adults are more vulnerable to neurodegenerative diseases because of declining grey and white matter in the brain. They’re also more susceptible to strokes, increasing brain damage risk and other conditions. All of these factors can hinder the quality of life as a person ages.
However, research shows that being bilingual improves brain health later in life. Bilingual people had reduced dementia and cognitive dysfunction rates compared to monolingual people. They also recovered more quickly from serious health problems like strokes or brain injuries.
5. Increases Ability to Multitask
Bilingual people who speak multiple languages frequently unknowingly engage in something called code-switching. The speaker can alternate effortlessly between two languages depending on the social context. Even while they speak one language, they can easily access the other when needed since their brain retains all the information.
Code-switching allows bilingual people to multitask efficiently, making them more efficient in demanding work settings.
6. A Second Language Enhances Emotional Intelligence
Having emotional intelligence means being aware of and managing one’s emotions. It also involves showing empathy to others and having the capacity to understand their feelings. High emotional intelligence can make interpersonal relationships more harmonious and increase teamwork in the workplace.
One study indicated that bilingual people perform better on tasks involving emotional intelligence. Conversing with people from different cultures can expand one’s worldview and understanding of others.
7. Promotes Creativity
Learning a second language also enhances brain health by promoting creative thinking. Being bilingual can improve understanding of abstract concepts and communication skills. Research shows that learning another language encourages people to think outside the box more, likely due to neuroplasticity.
As brain capacity expands, people are more open to new ideas and modes of expression. This skill can enhance problem-solving abilities and help people approach problems from different angles.
8. Expands Memory
While learning another language requires weeks or months of intense study, it can strengthen memory in the long term. The brain expands to absorb and retain information as we learn new ideas. And the more we practice speaking another language, the easier it is to recall the phrases and vocabulary from that language.
9. Boosts Empathy
Many people today enjoy exploring the world and learning about different cultures. It’s exciting to see a place utterly foreign to you and witness how people live in other parts of the world. However, the experience is much more fulfilling if you can speak with the locals fluently. As you communicate with them, you can learn about their culture more intimately than if you only visited the tourist hotspots. Studies show that bilingual students have enhanced empathy and cultural awareness. Since we live in a globally interconnected world, it’s more important than ever to consider and respect people from all cultures.
10. A Second Language Increases Self-Esteem
Learning another language can take months, but the reward is well worth the effort. When you converse successfully with someone in a different language, a feeling of accomplishment and joy washes over you. You realize that all your hard work paid off, and you can now talk with a new group of people. It’s no wonder research shows that bilingual people have greater self-esteem because of their newfound skills.
Final Thoughts on How Being Bilingual Improves Brain Health
Numerous studies show the benefits of speaking another language, citing increased brain health and heightened empathy. Learning new languages helps expand brain capacity and creates new synapses in the brain. We’re always learning throughout our lives, and our brains respond to any further information we absorb. Therefore, it makes sense that being bilingual can improve cognitive functioning and even protect against neurodegenerative diseases.
What language you learn doesn’t matter as long as you study diligently and practice communicating with others. What language would you like to learn? Let us know in the Facebook comments!