New Language: Exercise for the Brain

Your brain is looking a little chubby. When was the last time you dedicated some of your time to learning something new? Were you in university, high school? For some of us that might not have been a long time ago. I get it; you're still recovering from those midnight cram sessions. For the rest of us however, it could have been years since we last sat down with a textbook to study, well, anything. While browsing through health magazines we are inundated with how to get physically healthy, lose weight or bulk up. But let’s not forget about our minds.

One good way to exercise the mind is to study a foreign language, because there a far more benefits associated with learning a second language than just being able to communicate in that chosen tongue. One survey even found that individuals that knew more than one language were seen as more attractive. I wonder why I haven't seen that in a health magazine lately?

Did you know learning a foreign language can strengthen your cognitive skills and improve your memory and attention span? The Impact of Second Language Studies (download link) also showed that students of a second language have better test scores in reading and mathematics, and that students who are fluent in more than one language score higher for verbal and non-verbal intelligence.

This might seem strange at first, but learning a new language will actually strengthen understanding of your native language. Students of a second language can expect an improved vocabulary, reading level, and grammar proficiency. When you only speak one language, you have nothing to compare it to. Adding a second to the mix can help you better understand sentence structure, conjugations, tenses and other parts of your native language you are not aware of.

Learning a new language also introduces you to a new culture and an entirely new way of thinking, literally.  As a student of a foreign language you have the ability to view your own country's culture, its traditions, customs, beliefs and values through the lens of others. As a result, students of second languages show greater cultural sensitivity towards others and adapt better to new cultural contexts. 

Learning a new language is a not an overwhelming task either. Like any new skill, it is challenging and takes time, but just like picking up a new sport, or training for a marathon, it can be a fun and highly adventurous activity. The key is to just dive in and devote a consistent amount of time to studying daily. It's the same principle that applies to learning any new skill. (Except riding a bike. Why is that?) You either use it or you lose it.