Learning a language is no easy feat, but it also boasts a ton of benefits. Language learning changes your brain and uses every form of memory that you have. Social and communicative benefits aside, mastering another language will literally make you smarter. Getting there requires exercise — not the kind you do at the gym, but the kind you do for your brain.
Language learning is one of the broadest ways to stimulate your brain
As you learn a new language, you memorize an entirely new set of vocabulary and learn the complex grammatical knowledge to string it together. You develop the motor control to literally wrap your tongue around new words that sound nothing like the words of your mother tongue. To reach fluency, you need to learn how to do all of this quickly and intuitively. If it’s not already obvious, getting here requires a lot of brainpower.
It’s no surprise, then, that learning another language works out your cognitive muscles in the broadest scope possible. Because it’s such a complex and powerful workout, it’s been shown to actually increase the size of your brain.
With the variety of information it has to be able to digest and store, from memorizing vocabulary to understanding new social interactions, your brain grows to accommodate this new knowledge. And brain fitness brings great advantages.
Learning another language improves your attention and memory
Learning a new language means that you’re learning an entirely new system of communication, and the mastery of two languages requires you to juggle these two systems simultaneously. A second language used to be considered an interference that hindered development, but researchers eventually realized that this interference actually forces the brain to become cognitively stronger. Your brain learns when and where to use what language, figuring out how to allow them to coexist together.
This juggling of languages has been shown to improve the brain’s ability to monitor the environment — and to do it with less energy, and more efficiency. Imagine the bilingual’s experience of jumping between conversations in different languages and knowing how to intuitively listen for and speak in a certain language. That’s no cakewalk for your brain.
Studies have shown that bilinguals tend to be better at certain mental puzzles and multitasking activities that require ignoring distractions, staying focused, and holding information in the mind. Basically, learning another language helps you train your mind to direct your attention where you need it to go. And voila! You get a more productive version of you.
Language learning helps to keep your brain healthy as you age
Turns out that the benefits of language learning are long-lasting, proven to prevent cognitive decline as we age and act as a shield from the onset of dementia. The greater the degree of proficiency in a second language, the stronger the shield.
Learning another language gives you more reserve brain power to keep you fired up in your later years. So if you missed your chance to learn a language as child, it most definitely isn’t too late to start reaping the benefits as an adult. Not only will learning a second language broaden your perspective of the world, but it will help you protect your mind as you grow older.
The right mindset will take you far
Contrary to popular belief, it’s never too late to learn a new language. Children do learn languages more quickly, but the only thing preventing adults from doing the same is going into it with the wrong mindset.
What we’ve learned from neuroscience is that any brain can — and should — continue to learn. Is it going to be easy? No, but the more you continue to push yourself and test your limits, the more you’ll accomplish. Just like going to the gym, language learning is a workout for your brain that takes effort and dedication for progress to take place.
So take on a mindset that embraces growth and opens the door to challenges. Small steps take you to big places, so why not get going on your goals by signing up for language classes? With the knowledge of a new language in an increasingly globalized world, you’ll be equipped to travel far and wide and make all kinds of connections you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
Start learning today!
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This post was originally published on May 24, 2018.