We’ve all heard of brain training. The science behind it is widely accepted and the concept is largely portrayed using the ‘workout for your brain’ analogy.
But can the brain simply be exercised like a muscle and are there any activities in particular that are especially effective cognitive workouts?
Many linguists and neurologists indicate that the answer would certainly be that the brain does respond in a similar way to a muscle, growing in size after regular stimulation. It’s also widely acknowledged that language learning is one of the most successful forms of brain training.
Brain benefits of multilingualism
It is common knowledge that there are numerous benefits of learning a second language.
The ability to travel, improving your cultural awareness, bragging rights and even understanding your own language better. Also, it is estimated that people who speak foreign languages earn up to 8% more than those who don’t.
But studies over recent years have shown that not only does learning a language make a person more open-minded and tolerant of other cultures, but it can also play a huge part in fending off diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
In the past, it was assumed that speaking more than one language could confuse the brain and have negative effects on cognitive functionality, modern-day experts agree that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Here are some of the things that happen to your brain when you learn a new language:
- Grey matter increases: Grey matter is a substance which connects different sections of the brain. The volume of grey matter increases as a result of language learning. Einstein had an abnormally large amount of grey matter.
- Physical increase in size: MRI scans done as part of a study in Sweden showed parts of the brain associated with memory (such as the hippocampus and cerebral cortex) physically grow, like muscles, when stimulated regularly.
- Memory improves: The learning of new rules and memorizing grammar and vocabulary has positive effects on your everyday cognitive retention.
- Improved ability to concentrate: Studies show that bilinguals find it easier to focus on tasks and control their attention than monolinguals.
- Fends off dementia: Although learning a language may not totally halt the onset of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in susceptible individuals, it can fend it off for up to five years. This is much more effective than any currently prescribed drug.
- Becomes easier to learn new languages: Once your brain has been trained to spot patterns involved in learning a new language, it makes it much easier for it to spot the patterns in the future.
It’s never too late
Research has managed to pinpoint the optimum age for language learning. Between the ages of two and four years old the brain is at its most absorbent. The world-renowned linguist, Noam Chomsky, states that children of this age can learn up to a new word every hour.
What’s more is that their brains are able to retain this new information after only hearing the word once. Comparing this to the ability of an adult brain, you get an idea of how impressive this rate of language acquisition is.
If you’re reading this, then the chances are that you’ve waved goodbye to that golden period of language learning, but the good news is that the cognitive benefits of tackling a new language can still be reaped by people of all ages.
You are never too old to learn a new language. No matter what age you are, it will always have dramatic and positive effects on your brain.
Even more benefits
There are several other reasons that you should be learning another language…
Although it may seem like everyone speaks English, around 80% of the world’s population doesn’t speak a word. If you learn a new language (especially one of the more widely spoken ones) you significantly increase the percentage of the people on Earth that you can speak to.
Looking for a new job? Speaking languages also makes you much more employable, even if the job you’re applying for doesn’t require the language(s) you speak. It shows that you have great communication skills, international awareness and the brain of a multilingual – which, as we’ve already established, is a highly desirable attribute.
Guest post by Matt Mills, Content Manager at Europe Language Jobs