Why Learn a Language in Adulthood? How Language Learning Benefits Your Brain

Language Learning Benefits Your Brain

The notion of picking up a second language is often tied to potential career growth or financial improvement. Many of us target expanding our job prospects by acquiring a new language. 

Learning a new language can undeniably pave the way for better professional opportunities. But what often slips our mind is that mastering a foreign language can also positively influence our mental health and shape our personality. It could “unleash our intellectual prowess” and bolster our cognitive capabilities. Here’s how learning a new language benefits your brain.

The Size of Your Brain Increases

The acquisition of a foreign language has been identified to induce enlargement in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex, the sections of your brain accountable for learning and memory.

A study executed by Swedish scholars compared the brains of the Swedish military personnel before and after they engaged in rapid language training as part of an intensive program.

Brain images of the military trainees were contrasted with those of medical students attending a local university. After three months, brain scans of military individuals revealed growth in the areas responsible for language and memory processing. However, there was no evident change in the brains of the medical students.

The results of this study insinuate that mastering a second language promotes the health and efficiency of the brain’s cognitive processing functions.

Boost Confidence

Mastering a new language requires you to surmount various mental obstacles and move beyond the apprehension of trying something unfamiliar. For instance, as you develop your Spanish language proficiency, you may develop a newfound confidence in your ability to learn and acquire new skills.

The act of learning a new language presents immediate benefits. Each new word you learn can be directly applied in communication, translation, or comprehending a portion of a song you love.

These benefits significantly enhance your confidence and self-perception. In a period where many are home-bound, such elements that boost confidence are crucial for maintaining mental clarity and emotional balance.

Eliminating Distractions

Enhancing focus is a common aspiration among many, and interestingly, a study published in the Brain and Language journal suggests that learning a new language may be a stepping stone to realizing this aspiration.

Northwestern University researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine co-activation and inhibition. In bilingual individuals, co-activation entails the simultaneous activity of both languages, while inhibition denotes the capacity to select the appropriate language.

The researchers put bilingual and monolingual individuals through a language comprehension task. This involved listening to a word and subsequently selecting the corresponding image from a group of four. While it may seem straightforward, the catch was that each group included a “competitor” word, a word bearing phonetic similarity to the target word, such as “candy” and “candle.”

Bilingual participants demonstrated superior proficiency in disregarding the competitor’s words. fMRI results showed that monolingual participants exhibited increased activity in the brain’s inhibitory control regions, indicating that they had to put in more effort to fulfill the task.

According to the researchers, the study underscores that bilingualism offers two cognitive benefits. The first benefit is the enhanced ability to sieve out irrelevant information, which is crucial for bolstering focus. 

The second benefit is that being bilingual resembles constantly solving a puzzle since the brain alternates between two languages. This implies that your brain is getting a workout even when you’re not consciously engaging in any activity. If only we could identify a similar exercise for the rest of our body.

Delay Symptoms of Dementia

As you learn a new language, your brain demonstrably strengthens due to an enhancement in the integrity of the white matter. This component facilitates swift and effective communication across the neural network and to the brain. Over time, bolstering your brain’s white matter can stave off symptoms of dementia by over four years.

Though dementia might seem like a distant concern, consider language learning as a proactive measure for your health and future well-being.

Unleashes Creativity

A comprehensive analysis of the advantages of multilingualism reveals a strong correlation between creative elasticity, skill, and innovation. How frequently have you been intrigued by a non-native English speaker expressing a unique perspective using words unfamiliar to you, yet perfectly understandable? Acquiring new languages prompts one to envision a panorama of possibilities. 

Selecting the proper word to depict a sentiment or an idea is a creative endeavor in itself. This process occurs at an astounding speed during our early years and becomes more intentional as we mature. 

New languages liberate us from the shackles of routine. Articulating your thoughts in a different language is inherently creative, and this mindset seeps into other aspects of life.

Endnote

Mastering a new language presents numerous fascinating cognitive rewards. Regardless of the time lapsed since your formal education, engaging in learning a new language can bolster your working memory, enhance mental acuity, and promote adaptability.

Moreover, the language acquisition process also serves to fortify executive functions, foster cultural sensitivity and empathy, and diminish the risk of cognitive impairment.

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