Learning a new language can be an excellent way to achieve many things: further your career, expand your knowledge, facilitate communication when you travel, and so on.
However, learning a new language (at any age, to any level of fluency, and any language) is also a great way to train your brain, keep it healthy, active, young, and vigorous.
Here are the five ways language learning boosts your brain:
1. You become better at solving problems
We learn how to solve problems as we mature: starting from early adolescence, problem-solving becomes a part of our lives, and we apply all kinds of analytical solutions.
When we learn a language, there is more we absorb than grammar and spelling. We perfect a language by using it, putting ourselves into situations we have not yet been in (in terms of communication). This gets our brain making all sorts of new connections.
When speaking, we don’t think about the rules we need to adhere to. We intuitively reach for the right words and combinations, which teaches our brains to work on problems (even of the non-verbal kind) in new ways.
2. You look at things from a new perspective
Just like teaching you how to approach problems differently, a new language helps you look at the world through new perspectives as well.
You will expand your knowledge with new words and concepts, and with it comes a lot of cultural and historical (at times inherent) information you have access to.
People who speak multiple languages often find that what they want to communicate comes through better in one language than another. There are countless untranslatable words as well, that convey messages other languages are not equipped to dissect. This makes learning something new a great way to expand your horizons and the reaches of your brain.
3. You become more creative
There is evidence to show that speaking more than one language also makes you more creative: you are aware of more concepts, have a varied grasp of different subjects, and you can thus use the skills you have acquired verbally in other areas of your life.
Whenever you learn something new, your brain is forced to fire countless neurons to keep up, and all of this stimulation forges new pathways that other kinds of creative thoughts can later use as well.
Think of it as an exercise for the brain. Just like you lift weights to grow your muscles, learning a new language works out your brain, making it stronger and more capable of tackling new challenges.
4. You become more tolerant
Language, as the unique invention the human species uses to communicate, is filled with cultural, historical, contextual, individual, societal, and other layers we can never quite hope to disentangle.
A word can have more than one meaning, depending on where you come from in life. ‘Sick’ can mean physically ill, but it can also mean something cool and interesting.
When you learn a new language, you are exposed to all of these inherent aspects, making you more tolerant and open to others. It makes you a more open-minded person, one who is capable of exploring a situation from more than one angle.
This makes you a better communicator overall, but it also makes you a person who fits better into modern society’s shrinking square miles and widening horizons.
5. You can prevent disease
Keeping your brain sharp and healthy (as well as active and engaged) is one of the ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and a whole host of other forms of dementia. It may even help keep your mental health in check.
The better your brain is used, the more prepared it will be to fight the onset of these unpleasant diseases. While there is no evidence yet of how dementia is triggered, we do know that brain health and activity can help prevent it – so no harm in trying.
What do you need to do?
Contrary to what you may think, you don’t need to become fluent in a new language to experience all of these benefits. As little as learning some basic sentences in Spanish can help you boost your brain. Watching a movie in a foreign language (with subtitles) can help you immerse yourself in new phrases and ways of expression.
You don’t need to sign up for a class and commit full-on. Of course, you can, and it will be the most beneficial; but even learning the basics of several languages, in the form of basic phrases and how they operate, can be enough to trigger these benefits.
Allot a couple of hours a week for tinkering with a new language – and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t grasp grammar and pronunciation all at once. It will take time for your brain to come to terms with new words and processes. But once it does, you will feel that rush of pride and accomplishment that comes with learning something new.