5 Ways Language is Good for The Brain
Our brain, like any other muscle in our body, needs to be exercised. We can make it more agile, increase efficiency, and build cognitive stamina. And one of the best exercises for the brain is learning a new language. Here are five ways language is good for the brain.
1- Better Recall and Retention
The moment we begin studying a new language, our brain snaps to attention. It begins to work faster and pushes the areas of our brain associated with memory to work harder. When we study language, we have to recall new words that we’re learning and associate new vocabulary with what we already know. This builds new neural pathways in our memory processing centers, strengthening our ability to learn and recall information. This process works to make us even more efficient at other recall and retention related tasks, improving our overall memory. In fact, learning a new language is so good for our memory, it can even help reduce the risk for cognitive age-related decline, keeping our brain healthy as we get older.
2- Improves Focus
As we learn another language, our brain needs to be hyper-focused in order to process all the new information we’re digesting. As we listen to someone speak, we have to actively work to understand what they are saying in addition to translating their words and formulate our response. Because language is so nuanced, meaning there are sometimes multiple meanings to a word or have meanings that change with various contexts, our brain has to filter through these various scenarios to find the best response. It also has to filter out words that sound similar but have different meanings. These types of tasks require the brain to activate its inhibitory control regions, which helps filter out distracting stimuli while focusing on processing the right word. This requires a lot of focus in the beginning and regularly exercising this area of our brain sharpens our ability to filter our distraction when completing other tasks.
3- Strengthens Our Ability To Multitask
When we learn another language, we develop the ability to jump from our native language to another, which in turn, activates new connections and pathways in our brain. It’s no wonder then that this action helps those who know a second language become better at multitasking. This is partly because learning a new language requires flexibility. But it’s also because our brain becomes accustomed to listening, translating, and speaking in two languages which improves our ability to focus and concentrate on more than one thing at a time. And because language also requires us to anticipate what the other person will say while simultaneously reacting to what they are saying, we fine-tune skills related to problem-solving, multi-level organization, reacting to obstacles, and overcoming difficult tasks. All of which are used when juggling multiple tasks.
4- Brain Growth
Research shows that learning a new language literally makes it grow, primarily in four areas. The hippocampus, the part of our brain that deals with memory and emotion, shows significant growth after only three months of intensive language study. Students that develop strong language skills also show growth in their superior temporal gyrus, the part of the brain that contains our auditory cortex and Wernicke’s area, where we process speech. The middle frontal gyrus was stronger in students that put more effort into learning language. This area is responsible for controlling and balancing our ability to pay attention to both internal and external stimuli. The last area to show significant growth with language study is the inferior frontal gyrus, the area of the brain that contains Broca’s area, where language is processed and our speech is produced.
5- Delays Age-Related Brain Disease
In the same way, a healthy body can fight age-related illnesses and diseases, the same is true for our brain. The more we exercise our brain, the healthier it will be well into old age. Because learning a new language requires working multiple areas of our brain, it is one of the best ways to keep it healthy. The more we practice, the more new neural pathways we develop and the more cell growth occurs in key areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus. These pathways, combined with healthy new cell growth, ensure that our brain continues to thrive. Research suggests that learning a language keeps the cells in our gray matter active, which helps prevent cell degeneration.
There are any number of brain exercises we can do to keep our brain active and healthy, but language is one of the best options. It works out our whole brain, stimulates new cell growth, forms new neural pathways, and improves multiple skills at the same time. No matter what age we start learning a new language, we will see brain benefits, and the longer we practice language, the better the results we’ll see. Plus, in addition to being excellent for the brain, learning new languages opens many doors for social and professional experiences, helping us pursue new activities and hobbies beyond the language itself. In short, learning a new language is an all-around excellent way to stay healthy and active, ensuring we can reach our truly limitless potential.