The Unexpected Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language
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There are some obvious advantages to learning a second language — it improves one’s employment prospects, helps one feel more comfortable when traveling, and allows one to better communicate with family members speaking a different language.
Few people learn a foreign language for the sheer pleasure of being able to speak and understand it. Maybe you are one of those many people who need to learn another language for practical purposes. But no matter your motivation, you’ll probably find it encouraging to know that practicing a foreign language actually improves your cognitive abilities and lowers risks for brain aging, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.
Dementia, the most common form of Alzheimer’s, is the loss of cognitive abilities. Several studies have shown that speaking more than one language can delay symptoms of dementia by as much as 4.5 years.
Are you familiar with the phrase “Use it or lose it”? It is exactly what happens to our brain. The more we use it, the better it functions. As we get older, our mental functions become less flexible. So, if we want to keep our brain sharp and healthy, we need to exercise it.
Speaking a new language requires us to recall what we’ve learned and apply this knowledge, providing an ultimate mental workout. Overall, acquiring a new skill builds new neural networks in our brain which helps it stay healthy longer. Practicing a new language is one of such skills, but it comes with additional benefits.
The findings of various research show that multilingual people are better at recalling names, facts and figures; they have a sharper memory and a greater attention span. Being multilingual and easily switching between two different languages makes one better at multitasking.
On top of that, speaking a foreign language helps you pick up other languages faster and easier! The thing is, your brain has already developed the skills for mastering a new language, so with each new language you’ll be progressing at a faster pace.
You don’t have to become a polyglot to reap most of these benefits. Becoming fluent in just one foreign language will be enough to sharpen your memory and improve other cognitive functions.