Author: Miscellany


How learning a new language changes your brain

There are many reasons to learn a new language. For work, school, a new relationship or simply for pleasure – regardless of the motivation, many people find that studying a new language is an enriching experience that can definitely change the way you think. But did you know that it can also change your brain on a physical level?

Language learning in childhood influences brain development

People who have learned two or more languages side by side since early childhood have been a popular research subject for decades. Scientists have always been keen on understanding what effects speaking more than one language fluently has on a cognitive level. Thanks to advancing technology such as MRI, we are finally able to actually see the visual differences between multilingual and monolingual brains.

Our brains are made up of what scientists call “grey matter”: neurons, the cell bodies, and dendrites, which are the connections between the former. People who speak more than one language have a visibly grey matter, with more neurons and dendrite-connections.

There is also white matter, a system of nerve fibres connecting the four lobes of the brain. This system is responsible for coordinating neuronal communication between the different regions of the brain, helping your brain to function and learn. Learning a new language since childhood also lead to an increase in white matter integrity. So, the ability to speak a second language actually boosts the reserves of the brain.

What if you learn a new language later on?

But the benefits of being bi- or multilingual aren’t reserved for those who grew up speaking multiple languages. No matter what level they are at, speakers of a second language can still benefit from neurological improvements later in life. The reason for that is that experiencing novelty and actively learning new things is one of the most important factors when it comes to forming new neuronal connections. Regular practice strengthens the nervous system and help maintaining these newly formed pathways.

Studying a language is one of the most complex mental activities a person can do and an effective workout for your brain, that can protect especially older learners from degenerative neurological conditions such as dementia.

Learning a language boosts other skills

Given the described impact that learning a new language has on the brain, it is not surprising that these physical changes are often accompanied by other improvements, such as:

Better academic performance

The majority of studies on the matter showed, that people who study a second language perform better in multiple academic subjects than those who don’t. Learning a new language also boosts ones’ literacy, giving students an advantage in core subjects such as science or mathematics.

Improved concentration

A study encompassing learners from ages of 18 to 78 showed that only one week of learning a new language can have a positive impact on alertness and focus across all age groups. Studying a new language will boost concentration, no matter the age.

Better memory

Since learning a language engages memorization as well as recall, it’s no surprise that people who use a second language regularly have more powerful memories.

Improved communication skills

More recent research has not only found that empathy is a key trait for successfully learning a new language, but also that speaking a second language can improve the ability to see things from another perspective and therefore have a positive effect on communication skills.