How Bilingualism Can Boost Your Brain
Learning and using a second language is a complex process and you’re going to end up muddling verbs, cases, and whole sentences along the way. However, it is exactly these mistakes that can help overcome the degradation of your brain that comes with age.
In today’s article, we’ll be looking at how learning and using a second language, bilingualism, can help to boost your brain’s performance and keep it healthy in the long run.
What Are the Benefits of Bilingualism?
One of the major benefits of learning and using a second language is the boost it gives to you brain’s executive function.
How executive function works is complicated, but in its most basic form, it describes skills that allow you to control, direct, and manage your attention, as well as your ability to plan. The use of your executive function allows you to ignore unnecessary information and focus on what’s important.
The areas of the brain associated with executive function are most commonly used when you are trying to complete a task while there are distractions, allowing you to focus and concentrate.
Learning a second language reinforces the brain’s ability to use its executive functions because, subconsciously, a bilingual person is constantly sorting through the larger vocabulary they have at their disposal to select the right words in the right language and apply the right grammatical rules.
How Does This Help Boost My Brain?
Alongside the benefits of a strengthened ability to concentrate on complex tasks, learning another language actually expands your mind. Literally!
A 2016 study into the effects of bilingualism took MRI scans of the brains of monolingual and bilingual volunteers and compared them. The brains of the bilingual volunteers showed increases in gray matter volume in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that deals with the kind of advanced processing that separates humans from our closest ape cousins.
The need to sort through two languages prompts the brain to increase the number of neurons, and connections between neurons, making the brains of the bilingual volunteers denser. Brain density has been comprehensively linked to brain health.
The brain is made up of both white and grey matter. White matter, which allows messages to travel fast and efficiently across networks of nerves and to the brain, was also shown to be increased in the brains of bilingual people.
Increased white matter promotes the integrity of the brain as we age.
Learning Helps Ward Off the Effects of Aging
The unfortunate fact is that, starting at the age of about 25, your brain starts to decline in terms of working memory, efficiency, and processing speed. As you age, these declines start to happen more rapidly.
However, evidence from older adults indicates that learning one or more extra languages helps to slow these declines. In fact, a 2014 study into brain damage showed that the brains of bilingual patients who suffered neurodegeneration were able to compensate with what is called “cognitive compensation” by using alternative brain networks and connections when original pathways have been destroyed.
It Also Helps With Your Career Prospects
Bilingualism has a range of benefits outside of boosting your brain. Bilingual job applicants are more likely to be employed and have a wider range of career progression prospects.
Learning Spanish, for instance, can help you communicate with the 41 million Spanish speakers in the U.S. That’s 13% of the population. Having even a basic command of the Spanish language can help a paralegal communicate with her clients or a medical assistant reassure his patients.
Experienced, Efficient And Free For Students
The benefits of taking an ESL course are clear. By improving your English skills you gain better access to education, greater earning potential, a better social life, and even better results from healthcare. We here at Northwest Community College are committed to enhancing our student’s lives, which is why we are proud to offer our ESL courses free of charge to our students and to extend that offer to their families.
Our seasoned language teachers are experienced in working with international students from all over the world and are there to help you get the most from your classes. To help your lessons fit in with your work and home life we also offer day and weekend classes. If you are interested in taking advantage of this excellent opportunity then call one of our ESL councilors today on (702) 403-1592.
Fernando Herbert, B.A.
Spanish Language Consultant