03 Jul How Language Learning Keeps Your Brain Healthy
Learning languages affords learners many benefits; from insight into distant cultures to the facilitation of international business and all the rewards, personal and professional, which can stem from both.
But, is it overzealous to state that learning a language will also rewire your brain, make you more resilient to degenerative diseases and even change how you perceive the world?
It may sound too good to be true but the evidence is mounting.
Brain scans of those who are bilingual shows different and heightened activity in the prefrontal cortex, especially when compared to monolinguals. This part of the brain at the front of our skulls is responsible for organizing and acting on information, applying working memory, reasoning and planning.
The differences in behavior could well be indicative of an underlying difference in the architecture of bilingual brains. It is not unreasonable to state that learning a language could change how your brain is wired.
New connections are made in the brain when we learn something, including how to make a cup of tea – evidenced by the fact that your adult brain is markedly different from the mass of cells you were born with.
There are changes in the brain that can be directly measured and observed. Research by Olsen et al at York University in Toronto has found that bilinguals may have a resistance to the onset of dementia, being diagnosed, on average, 4.5 years later than their ageing monolingual peers. This may be due to the additional white matter they have in the prefrontal cortex. White matter is made of nerve fibers and is a component of the brain that connects and carries signals between different regions. It would appear that we could cautiously state that being bilingual creates a more “connected” brain.
A study by the cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Thomas Bak, from the University of Edinburgh found that 40% of the 608 researched bilinguals who had suffered a stroke recovered full function, compared to 20% of monolinguals. It is speculated that the additional white matter that is the result of extra connections enables brains to compensate better.
So there we have it, it may be time start learning that new language – if not for your career, for your health. Get started.
About the author: Developing language to instill confidence in service or powerful language for diplomacy, Mark Abi-Aad has helped hundreds of organizations across the private and public sectors improve their communication.