The benefits of learning a second or third language are astounding. Understanding more than one language helps both socially and professionally, primarily because there is a wider pool of people with whom you can communicate. For example, BBC News wrote an article about how learning a second language slows brain aging.
Professionally speaking, employers value employees who are able to translate documents and conversations in languages they don't understand. In fact, bilingual or multilingual professionals out-earn their monolingual counterparts by margins ranging from twice to three times as much in earnings. CNN's article on companies seeking bilingual and multilingual candidates is compelling.
The social benefits of speaking more than one language are great as well. Imagine those times you are in line at the coffee shop and you overhear a pair of friends conversing in a language you wish you understood. By taking the time to learn the language, you would be enabled to participate in this conversation, a skill often well received by non-English speakers.
While there are immeasurable social and professional benefits, there are extraordinary physical benefits as well. Studies have shown that knowing another language is healthful for the brain and the body in a multitude of exciting ways. Let's investigate:
Learning a Second Language Slows Aging Brain
In a study conducted by the University of Edinburgh, findings indicated that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would have been expected from their baseline test. Researchers found that the strongest effects were in general intelligence and reading.
Excitingly, the effects were present regardless of when the subject had learned the language(s), whether earlier or later in life. Says lead researcher of the study Dr. Thomas Bak, "These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain."
Bilingualism Slows the Onset of Dementia & Alzheimer's
While we can see that there are overall intelligence improvements for those who speak more than one language, multilingualism can specifically slow the onset of Alzheimer's. For example Dr. Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, studied 211 people with probable Alzheimer's disease, half of whom were bilingual and half were monolingual. She documented the age of when the patients' cognitive impairment began, and found that bilingual patients had been diagnosed on average 4.3 years later, and had reported onset of symptoms 5.1 years later than monolingual patients. Check out Dr. Biyalystok's research about delaying the onset of Alzheimer's through bilingualism.
Learning a Second Language Improves Memory Retention
It's a fairly natural assumption that knowing another language involves having a stronger memory, given the nature of study. This assumption is absolutely correct, as learning a foreign language requires memorizing rules and vocabulary, subsequently strengthening the brain's memory muscles. This mental exercise improves overall memory, making multilinguals better at remember things like lists, sequences, and events.
Denser Grey Matter
Grey matter is the portion of the brain responsible for attention span, processing information like language, and storing memory. Research has found that persons who can speak one or more language(s) have denser grey matter than those who speak only one language. This is especially true in the left hemisphere of the brain, where most language and communication skills are controlled.
Learning A Second Language Benefits Children
We've mentioned how bilingualism slows the aging of the brain and how this skill can benefit seniors. Additionally, the benefits of knowing another language early in life are significant as well. Children who know a language early in their development experience the following benefits over their monolingual peers:
Abstract thinking leads to higher test scores in math and problem solving.
Learn to read sooner than monolinguals.
Better concentration and multitasking skills.
Advanced decision making leads to better decisions and can improve sense of identity and self-worth.
Learning another language may involve a healthy amount of dedication, but the list of benefits to your health is long. In addition to the health benefits, knowing more than one language makes it easier to live and travel abroad given the exposure to other cultures. This exposure to more than one culture naturally leads to a greater understanding and accepting of others, a benefit for not only the health of the language learner, but for the rest of the world. Given this, it is well worth the effort to explore learning another language.
Have questions on where to start? Let us know and we can point you in the right direction.