7 Surprising Benefits of Learning a New Language (Backed by Research)
There have been numerous studies pointing to the benefits of learning a new language. Yet, recent study shows that only 18% of Americans can fluently speak two or more languages.
Part of the reason is that learning a new language only becomes an interest to us once we reach adulthood, and we mistakenly think that it’s impossible to acquire a new language at a certain age. While it’s not a walk in the park, nearly anyone can learn a new language with a bit of motivation and diligence.
Some people have more aptitude for learning languages, including children, and we shouldn’t let it discourage us from continuing to improve.
“People vary in their aptitude like they do in learning math or in playing basketball,” — Dr. Robert DeKeyser, Professor of Second Language Acquisition
If you need more reasons to motivate yourself to learn a new language, here are 7 unusual benefits backed by science.
- You will improve your native languages
It’s only when we learn a new language, that we can appreciate the roots and fundamentals of our native language.
This is because we grew up speaking our native language, without much thought in terms of how sentence structures worked or breaking down the accents for each syllable.
It’s similar to playing basketball your whole life, then learning how to play volleyball, and using those skills to improve your basketball game.
“You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.” — Geoffrey Willans
- Enhances your focus
In a study, published online in the journal Brain and Language, individuals who spoke more than one language were observed through an fMRI, while performing word comprehension tasks.
Results showed that multi-lingual individuals were better at filtering out competing words than one-language speaking individuals. This ability to tune out competing words benefits in blocking out distractions to focus on the task at hand.
Luckily for us, studies have shown that even those of us with minimal knowledge of a secondary language can reap the advantages of these traits.
- Prevents common brain diseases
Hopefully non of us have to worry about this anytime soon, but aging is something that is common in all of us.
When it comes to the brain, learning a foreign language can prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by 4.5 years. This is a far more powerful than the best drugs which only delays the symptoms by 6–12 months.
The American Academy of Neurology has performed studies showing that speaking more than one language increases the amount of neural pathways in the brain, allowing information to be processed through a greater variety of channels.
- Improve your math skills
A powerful study was done at Massachusetts in 2007, where The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages stated that:
“Children who study a foreign language, even when this second language study takes time away from the study of mathematics, outperform students who do not study a foreign language and have more mathematical instruction during the school day.”
In another study published in the University of Michigan’s Language Learning journal (Armstrong and Rogers, 1997), students who studied just one semester of a foreign language for just 90 minutes per week scored significantly higher in maths and language arts.
In hindsight, this makes sense because learning the foundations of a new language involves logical and structural thinking. Memorization techniques, such as Mnemonics in language learning, can also play a big