In recent times, more people are learning new languages than ever before. The uptake of multilingualism has been the focus of so many in an unprecedented way. This could be attributed greatly to globalization where the world has turned into a ‘global village’ thanks to advancements in communication and transport.
However, did you also know that learning a new language can, figuratively, open your mind and create more opportunities for you? What exactly happens to your brain when you’re in the process of learning a foreign language? Well, the brain literally expands.
Your Brain Expands
Learning a second language can cause your brain to grow in size. This was discovered by scientists from Lund University in Sweden after months of practical research. The researchers analyzed the brain sizes of Swedish Armed Forces recruits before and after they underwent language training. At the Armed Forces Academy, recruits learn foreign languages like Arabic and Russian at a highly accelerated pace. In the academy, unlike typical language schools, language classes last from morning till evening every single day, including weekends.
For comparison purposes, the scientists took MRI scans of medical students at a local university. As Medicine is a highly technical course, learning is as rigorous, if not more demanding, as the language classes in the Armed Forces Academy. After 3 months, MRI scans of both groups were taken and surprise, the brain sizes of the medical students remained constant. For the military recruits, scans showed growth in several parts of their brains including the hippocampus and cerebral cortex.
Roles of the Hippocampus and Cerebral Cortex
Both the hippocampus and cerebral cortex are heavily involved in language learning processes. The hippocampus primarily serves as a link between incoming words and related items stored in the brain. The cerebral cortex, however, plays a more prominent role in learning a new language. This is achieved through the Broca’s and Wernicke’s Areas. The former is involved in the production of oral speech while the latter deals with the interpretation of oral and written speech.
Language Comprehension Is Faster in Children
Despite having less developed cognitive skills, research shows that children are much better at mastering new languages than adults. The reason behind this is that adults often have ingrained biases and preferences and will mostly ignore some minor language rules and guidelines. Children, on the other hand, have a better memory and are thus more likely to remember even the most minor intonations in a language. Consequently, a child who learns a foreign language is more likely to sound like a native speaker than an adult.
Benefits of Multilingualism
Preliminary research indicates that being multilingual improves one’s memory, communication, and multitasking skills. People speaking two or more languages are also said to be more cognitively creative and more aware of their environment. Finally, some studies show that mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia tend to occur much later in people who speak more than one language.
Learning a new language is fun and beneficial to your self-esteem and mental health. You could speak like a native speaker or not, but what really matters is that you feel good about yourself and are intelligible. So, sign up for those Spanish classes you’ve been craving, and you might just get a bigger and better brain!
Author bio: Kevin is a professional educator and a private tutor with over 8 years of experience. He is also a content writer for edubirdies.org and various blogs about higher education, entertainment, social media & blogging. During his off time, Kevin enjoys traveling and cooking. Feel free to connect with him on Twitter, Linkedin & Google+.