Most people speak more than one language. Some live in countries where several languages are spoken and use one to communicate with one another. Some countries promote multilingualism by teaching more than one language at school. Business and travel also encourage us to learn languages to make ourselves understood. People move. They may learn one language then move to another country and learn another.
Languages shape the way we think. Recent research suggests the brain is more pliable than previously thought. The language centres of the brain are flexible, so learning a language can physically alter your mind. It develops new zones and strengthens the brain’s ability to focus, process information and evaluate options.
The benefits of speaking more than one language are numerous, and more are continuously being discovered. These range from boosting creativity and stimulating brain growth to delaying the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
What are bilinguals better at?
Learning a language bolsters the brain’s ability to focus. From the very first syllable, a bilingual’s brain tries to identify what words – in either language – could fit the sounds heard. Having to distinguish between two languages enhances the brain’s executive functions, especially those relating to attention and inhibition. Ultimately, this makes bilinguals better at multitasking.
Research shows that bilinguals have more grey matter than monolinguals. The parts of the brain devoted to memory, reasoning and planning are larger. As they get older, bilinguals have more cognitive reserve, which allows their mind to run smoothly for longer.
Just as you can exercise your body to stay fit, you can exercise your mind. Learning a language is like a workout for your brain. So, shape up, design yourself and start learning a new language now.