Are you afraid of having short memory lapses? Would you like to preserve your brainpower? We have a solution for you: learn one (or more) language(s). Various studies have shown that speaking at least two languages has a positive impact, not only on our cognitive functions, but also on the ageing of our neurons. From preventing Alzheimer’s disease to increasing “intellectual performance”, let’s look at the benefits of language learning on the brain.
Delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease through languages
Foreign languages: a bulwark against Alzheimer’s
To avoid the development of any serious symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to preserve what specialists call our “brain capital”. This involves creating new connections between our nerve cells through brain training.
In other words, to keep your brain healthy, it is important to exercise it. For example, you can stimulate your neurons by doing regular physical activity or by playing memory games.
Another type of exercise that works particularly well for developing new neural connections is language learning and using a second language. Researchers have found that bilingual individuals tend to develop Alzheimer’s symptoms much later. On average, the disease develops 5 years later than in people who speak only one language.
Rejuvenate your brain by 5 years with language training
Why such a difference? It seems that the cortex of people who speak several languages is thicker than that of ‘monolingual’ individuals. This would allow for a better preservation of the brain areas linked to language and executive functions.
«A Scottish study published in the journal Annals of Neurology provides evidence that having learned at least one foreign language in one’s life is an independent protective factor for brain function after the age of 70.»Source: BEING A POLYGLOT PROTECTS THE BRAIN FROM AGEING – Planète Santé
And if you think it’s too late to protect your brain by learning a new language, read this: Is it harder to learn a language as an adult?
Improving brain efficiency: one of the benefits of language learning on the brain
Immediate effects on cognitive performance
Why learn a language if it takes years to feel the effects on the brain? In fact, you don’t have to wait until you are old to see the positive impact of foreign languages on your brain. It turns out that people who learn a new language achieve better cognitive performance almost immediately. This is proven by a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.
The participants in the study, 39 English-speaking students, attended Chinese lessons for six weeks. The scientists gave each of the volunteers MRI scans before and after each lesson. They observed a rapid neural evolution, especially in the most successful students. The brain networks of the latter became much more efficient than before the Chinese lessons.
This tends to prove that the brain activity induced by language learning energises our brain and helps it to become more efficient.
Several other studies corroborate these conclusions. In Sweden, researchers have shown that learning languages is a better exercise for brain development than learning medicine, for example.
In the United States, Judith Kroll, a cognitive scientist, has also shown that the ability of bilinguals to juggle two languages ‘reorganises’ brain connections. Thus, the brains of people who speak two languages are made in such a way that they can process two pieces of information at the same time more easily.
«Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things but learning another way to think about things» This quote from journalist Flora Lewis could not be truer. Learning a language is more than just developing your vocabulary, it is also a way of reshaping your neural connections to make them more efficient.
J. Kroll’s research also shows that when we speak two languages, the information we receive flows more easily through our brain, even when we are faced with a “monolingual” situation. This is why bilinguals are generally better than others at thinking about several things at the same time.
Speaking at least one foreign language ensures a better, healthier and longer-lasting brain. The good news is that you can start at any age! So, English, Spanish, Italian… it doesn’t matter where your preference lies. The benefits of language learning on your brain will be felt no matter what language you choose.