Learning another language not only is sexy, alluring, and practical, but it is also an incredible workout for the brain. And since the brain is a muscle and a muscle that is exercised grows, it makes sense that learning a second language has the potential to increase brain volume.
Many of the health benefits of knowing a foreign language result from processing and switching between two (or more) distinct languages and how that process exercises the brain. This repetitive exercise involves memorizing vocabulary and structures and makes the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for memory — larger, and strengthens the brain mechanisms that facilitate long term memory. Stronger memory is one of the most potent health benefits of learning a foreign language. The effects are clearly seen in studies comparing bilingual and monolingual children. These studies have shown that children who are raised bilingual regularly perform better than monolingual children on advanced memory tasks. Adults who started learning another language at an older age don’t miss out on these benefits! Scientists have discovered that adults who speak multiple languages, regardless of the age at which they begin learning another language, are better at recalling names, directions, and shopping lists by memory.
Given that information, it’s not surprising that knowing another language Prevents Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other medical issues stemming from disrupted memory function. Scientists have discovered that bilingualism can delay the development of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s for up to almost 5 years. Speaking more than one language provides constant exercise for your brain, and keeping your brain active helps delay the onset of dementia.
Another health benefit of learning a foreign language shows that knowing multiple languages slow the brain’s aging process because speaking more than one language encourages brain flexibility and increases the amount of grey matter in the brain. Grey matter impacts higher-level thinking, analyzing, making connections, and synthesizing information. Increasing the amount of grey matter in the brain improves brain functioning and slows the aging process. For example, a study that had senior citizens complete a series of cognitive activities showed that bilingual seniors exhibited more brain power than elderly individuals who spoke only one language. The bilingual group used less energy in the frontal region of their brain to complete the cognitive tasks compared to their monolingual counterparts, enforcing the lifelong health benefits of learning a foreign language.
As if those health incentives weren’t enough to get you thinking about learning another language, there’s more. Each year, over 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke, making it one of the leading causes of death and disability in the country. Fortunately, scientists have discovered a link between knowing a foreign language and the recovery of cognitive capacity following a stroke — a phenomenon known as cognitive reserve. Brains that have built up secure neural networks are better equipped to bounce back when the damage has occurred. The cognitive processes involved in language learning build a stronger, more active, and more interconnected brain that recover from the trauma of a stroke better than that of a monolinguist’s brain. Research indicated that over 40 percent of study participants who were bilingual recovered full cognitive functions following a stroke.
Knowing another language even fine-tunes hearing. Knowing multiple languages improves your listening abilities because your brain has to work harder to distinguish the different types of sounds in two or more languages. Enhanced listening skills can really help prevent hearing loss: If you’re good at tuning out background noise, you’re less likely to play your tv, music, and other entertainment at a sound level that can damage your hearing in the long run. Keeping your hearing and listening skills in shape also keep you young!
With all of these benefits of learning another language, what’s keeping you from trying? Health coaches talk about cardio and creating an instaworthy exercise routine and body by toning the visible muscles– abs, triceps, and butt. And in doing so, they’ve forgotten the most essential muscle of them all — your brain! It might not be as glamorous to brag about exercising on social media, but it’s worth it.