Everyone has their own motivation for learning to speak a new language, whether it’s just to nail that Italian accent to impress your local pizzeria or something you need for a move abroad. There are obvious immediate benefits, perhaps a free slice of
Quattro Stagioni, but there is also an increasing amount of research into the serious, long-term advantages learning a new language can have on your brain.
Whilst many of these studies focus on the cognitive impact on children, adults too are reaping the rewards of their labour and may even be deferring the process of mental aging.
British children who don’t speak a second language are falling behind in school
At school, many of us will have stammered our way through one curricular European language or another. For the younger generations this is now a compulsory part of their secondary school education. There are, of course, many different motivating factors behind this government move, as explained by the UK’s Education Secretary Nicky Morgan. One of their leading concerns was that Britain’s state schools were falling behind their private counterparts in regard to teaching foreign languages, and neither of these systems were on par with language provision abroad.
In an increasingly interconnected world and job market, it has never been more important to engage with and understand other cultures and countries. Already we’re seeing that our monolinguistic native speakers are being outperformed at GCSE level by pupils who already have more than one language under their belt. But why is that the case?
Over the past few years, studies have uncovered ways in which the human brain changes, even improves, when learning an additional language. The brain flits between two languages depending on circumstance, a mental workout on par with olympic aerobatic training – both result in similarly spectacular performances.
Exercising your brain in this way strengthens its internal connections, increasing the speed and ability of other cognitive functions such as concentration, memorising information, as well as planning and problem solving. With all these skills literally on the tip of their tongue, it is no wonder that bilingual students are storming ahead.
Mono-linguists will be overlooked in the global job market
As young adults leave school or university they face employment competition from abroad on a much larger scale than ever before. There is no doubt that in the next few years more research into the benefits of being bilingual will be picked up by potential employers and become an increasingly valued asset.
The more we come to understand about bilingualism, the more desirable it will likely become. For example, an individual’s emotional intelligence is also greatly improved by learning another language. Qualities such as empathy and open mindedness are much more highly developed amongst bilinguals. These qualities are well sought after in many professions and roles, especially in managers and other high ranking positions.
A bilingual brain will stay younger for longer
Perhaps the most personal and powerful effect learning a second language can have on your life won’t become apparent until the later years. As the human lifep continues to increase our fears of aging intensify. What will life be like at 110 years of age? Are we really expected to blow out quite so many candles?
Quantity doesn’t always equal quality, but by looking after our mental health we improve our chances of a healthier, happier retirement. Recent studies have demonstrated a significant delay in the onset of cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, amongst bilingual speakers. More recent research is also showing the bilingual brain to be much better at recovering from strokes than patients who had never learned another dialect.