Being bilingual can boost a resume, help someone communicate better with their loved ones, or give insight into another culture. People are increasingly being raised with multiple languages, with 22% of children in the United States speaking a language other than English at home.
Many of the benefits of language learning are social, but research indicates that there can be personal benefits to speaking a second language as well. Language learning strengthens the brain, leading to lifelong cognitive and emotional advantages.
There's significant evidence that learning a second language benefits students in other academic subjects. Research indicated that students who were learning a second language performed better on reading comprehension and standardized tests.
This benefit did not require fluency in the second language. Simply studying a new language for an hour and a half per week boosted academic performance.
In the same way muscles grow when used more frequently, certain activities can reshape brain matter and keep the brain healthy. Language learning appears to have a particularly strong effect.
Scans show that bilingual people have more grey matter in key parts of their brain than people who speak a single language. There's even evidence that being bilingual changes the structure of the brain in beneficial ways.
In a Cambridge study comparing bilingual subjects to those who spoke only one language, they found that bilingual people performed better on cognitive tasks that required sustained attention.
They could pay attention for longer and more easily while performing complex tasks. This may be due to increase sensitivity of the nervous system.
As people age, they begin to lose grey and white matter. They also become more vulnerable to strokes, increasing the risk of brain damage and serious illness. This can severely limit a person's quality of life.
Research indicates that a bilingual brain is a healthier and more resilient one. Bilingual people showed a lower rate of dementia and age-related cognitive decline. They also tended to recover more fully and easily from traumatic events like strokes or brain injuries.
Bilingual people who use both languages regularly have to perform a task called code-switching. The second language is still there in the background and they are subconsciously ready to switch over if they need to.
Because of that skill, bilingual people switch between tasks and manage multiple tasks at once more easily. This can be highly beneficial at work or in situations where attention is divided.
Emotional intelligence — a person's ability to manage and understand their own feelings — is a sometimes overlooked but extremely important skill. Strong emotional intelligence can make it easier to form healthy relationships and achieve goals, and one study indicates that bilingual people perform better on tasks using emotional intelligence.
Learning a second language may help people express themselves more fully and think of their emotions in new ways.
Learning a language helps a person practice creative thinking. It can naturally encourage people to think through abstract concepts and consider how to communicate. As a result, many second language students develop enhanced creativity. They start to think about concepts and ideas in new ways and this opens them up to explore other avenues of expression.
This can lead to better problem-solving and a more advanced understanding of the world.
Initially, learning a second language can be challenging. A person may frequently forget vocabulary or even words in their original language as the other language comes to mind. But overall, learning a second language actually improves memory. Far from being crowded by all the new words and vocabulary, the brain actually expands to learn more.
There are many ways to learn about another culture, but few are as eye-opening as speaking to members of that culture in their own language. The process of learning a language involves humbling oneself and understanding that there are many things about that culture that they don't know.
As a result, students of a second language show greater empathy and cultural competence. In an increasingly global world, the ability to respectfully engage with people from different cultures is extremely valuable.
Learning a new language is hard work. It takes time and consistent practice, but the thrill of understanding an article in one's target language or having a conversation with a native speaker gives learners a powerful sense of accomplishment.
This may be why students of a second language reported a higher self-concept and increased self-esteem.
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