Monday, April 6, 2020

The Positive Effects Learning a Second Language Can Have On Your Mind by Luke Smith

Learning a second language is a challenge at any age, but it can be especially difficult for adults. Being bilingual means that you have to think and process multiple languages simultaneously, and that kind of cognitive agility and plasticity gets tougher as you get older — ask anyone over the age of 40!

But the fact is that learning a second language brings with it a range of benefits that make the effort worthwhile. These benefits range from delaying cognitive decline and decreasing the risk of dementia to using that second language to up an array of professional and personal opportunities.

A Change of Mind

One of the most significant and exciting benefits of learning a second language is the vast and often life-long benefits to your brain. Studies show that bilingual people tend to be more cognitively adaptable. They can easily and quickly switch between tasks or tackle multiple tasks at once.

This is because becoming bilingual, by definition, requires you to move deftly between multiple languages to understand and to make yourself understood. That kind of cognitive agility helps you not only when you are a child or young adult, either, as studies show that people who speak more than one language tend to retain their mental sharpness well into old age. Bilingual people with Alzheimer's show their first symptoms an average of five years later than patients who speak only one language.

Multiple Benefits

When you're learning a second language, you're not just honing your ability to move seamlessly between two languages. You're also developing skills that can come in handy in other areas of your life, both at work and home. For one thing, studying a second language requires you to become a master of details. You have to refine your powers of observation, noticing those little nuances that make the language work.

Not only that, but you're also going to get quite good at problem-solving. Because, as anyone who has ever learned a second language knows, becoming bilingual is about more than substituting words in one language for words in another. It's about figuring out how to use not only the vocabulary of the second language but also its systems of grammar and syntax, to both make meaning and express it. And that requires a strong ability to problem-solve.

As you're learning the nuances of a second language, as strange as it may seem, you're also going to be learning about your mother tongue. For many of us, our native language is second nature. We learn it primarily through exposure, habit, and mimicry.

But, outside of our language arts classes in school, we rarely have an opportunity to study our native language or think about how it works. That also means that we're often reproducing errors that we've heard all our lives but never realized were incorrect until exposure to the second language required us to develop a deeper and better understanding of our first.

Expanding Horizons

There's no doubt about it, we live in an increasingly globalized world. Learning a second language is going to help you participate in that world. For instance, if you are one of the rapidly growing numbers of remote workers worldwide, you're no longer limited by geographic boundaries or physical distance. Your clients and partners can be located anywhere in the world. Speaking multiple languages allows you to vastly expand the possibilities of the remote work you do, the people you partner with, and the clients you serve.

But it's not just remote workers who can benefit professionally from speaking a second language. If English isn't your first language, for example, studying it as a second language can open up the world of business, no matter where you might be located because, increasingly, English is being chosen as the lingua franca of international business. 

Best of all, if you can speak more than one language, that simply increases your chances for new adventures. You'll be able to travel more widely and do it with more skill, confidence, and enjoyment. It'll also open up more opportunities to meet new and different people, experience different cultures, and more — and increased socialization, in any form, is known to have health benefits, too.

The Takeaway

Being bilingual is more than an impressive party trick to perform in front of your monolingual friends. Learning a second language provides important cognitive benefits that will extend throughout your whole life.

You will become more mentally agile and adaptable. You'll hone your multitasking and problem-solving skills. You'll develop your observational skills and become a master of fine details. And you'll even get better at speaking and writing in your mother tongue. Learning a second language can also help you ward off the effects of dementia and Alzheimer's. You'll retain your mental acuity longer.

Bilingualism can also open up an entire world of personal and professional opportunities. Whether you dream of jetting off on new adventures by traveling internationally, or you are looking to grow your business by going global, speaking multiple languages opens the world to you, your family, and your business.

Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but linguistics topics are his favorite. When he isn't writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.

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