The benefits of speaking several languages are plenty and often obvious. From enjoying your favourite authors in their original language to easily communicating with people from different countries, learning a new language opens a window to a world previously unknown. But in addition to these commonly cited and widely-known incentives, there is also a whole list of other reasons you might not be aware of. It turns out speaking several languages is even more beneficial than you might have previously thought.
Avoid dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
There is compelling evidence that people who are bilingual or speak even more languages have a diminished risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in their lives. It has to do with how the human brain needs to function when switching between several languages for communication. The heightened activity within in the brain has been shown to limit the risk of these debilitating illnesses.
Interestingly, the positive effects of bilingualism also extend to when a person has developed Alzheimer’s. In a recent study in Northern Italy where much of the population is bilingual, speaking Italian and German, it was shown that among the bilingual patients the onset of dementia (often a side effect of Alzheimer’s disease) was delayed an average of five years. And even when dementia was developed, they managed to cope with the effects much better than their monolingual neighbours.
Get a brain workout
We all know that exercise is good for your body and, by extension, your physical health. But did you know that learning a new language is essentially a workout for your brain?
Not only does it require for you to learn and remember twice the amount of vocabulary improving your working memory, it actually changes your brain for the better in many ways. Your neural network will improve both functionally and structurally, according to a study carried out at Penn State University. The parallels with exercise are very clear, as the leading scientist of the study explains: “Like physical exercise, the more you use specific areas of your brain, the more it grows and gets stronger.”
Become better at multitasking and problem-solving
Once you’ve pumped your brain up with all that language-knowledge, that will actually help you in other areas of life as well. Since your brain is constantly required to switch between several languages that are competing for your attention, your brain will learn to focus on the one that’s the most appropriate for the particular situation, blocking out the other(s). This practice with swapping between languages actually also trains your brain for the same action when multitasking with anything else.
This shuffling through of different vocabulary and grammatical constructs will also come in handy when faced with difficult problems to solve in any other area. This ability is evident even among young children but is certainly carried on to later life.
Another benefit of speaking more than one language is that even if something bad does happen to your brain (a stroke, for example), bi- and multilingual speakers are much more likely to recover quicker and better than those speaking only one language.
This comes down to the same issues referenced above. Learning and speaking another language is essentially exercising your brain. It’s evident that strong, healthy individuals also recover quicker from physical injuries, so it’s no surprise that the same goes for brains that are in good condition.
Conclusion – Learning several languages keeps your brain healthy
We’ve seen that keeping your brain healthy with providing it regular exercise with learning new vocabulary and analysing foreign grammar can reap you long-term benefits. You’ll get a more active and flexible brain that’s able to recover from injuries quicker, makes your everyday life easier, and will hopefully keep you from developing dementia in old age.
With such clear health benefits, schools should really dedicate at least a portion of high-school gym classes to grammar exercises.