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Benefits of Learning a Second Language

Many people think about learning a second language but hesitate to begin because the anticipated challenges may seem to outweigh the benefits. However, real-world experience shows that there are many practical benefits to learning another language, and that these benefits are available to learners of all ages and backgrounds. Serious research has confirmed that studying a second language brings numerous economic, cognitive, professional and social benefits.

What are the cognitive benefits of learning a second language?

Learning a second language creates a “cognitive reserve”

Studying and using a second language creates a cognitive reserve, meaning extra brain power that can be called into action when needed. This benefit is thought to come from an increase in size of the brain’s “gray matter”, which consists of neurons and their connecting dendrite structures. In addition, other studies have also shown increases in another type of brain tissue in second language learners, the “white matter”. This white matter is found in the deeper tissues of the brain, also known as the subcortical areas.  The result for second language learners of any age is a brain that can make better connections and solve problems quicker. The multilingual brain acquires a significantly greater degree of neuroplasticity compared to the monolingual brain, meaning that the multilingual brain has the ability to rewire itself as needed. Learning a second language can upgrade your brain just like installing a faster operating system on your laptop or desktop computer!

Learning another language can delay the onset of Alzheimers and other dementias

Studies have shown that the onset of Alzheimers and other dementias occurs later in people who speak more than one language. This delay is generally found to be between four and five years. This benefit is most likely due to the creation of the cognitive reserve and enhanced neuroplasticity found in second language learners.

Learning another language can improve your conflict resolution abilities

When multilinguals need to communicate in one of the languages they know, there is a small-scale conflict situation in the brain as it chooses the appropriate language. Although this is at a subconscious level, some researchers hypothesized that this could train the brain to better monitor and control conflicts that arise in the environment. Using scientific methods, an international group of academics verified that speakers of more than one language adapt better to conflicting situations.

These individuals were quicker at sorting out conflicting information while using less neurological resources. So while you might feel a sense of confusion when you begin your second language classes, you’ll really be improving your information processing abilities in all areas of life. You’ll also become better at switching between tasks, even if these tasks have nothing to do with language. 

Learning a second language increases visual and other creative abilities

People whose work requires less verbal or written communication may be skeptical about the benefits of learning a second language. However, the evidence shows that learning multiple languages has a positive effect on all creative areas, including visual creativity. Researchers at the Faculty of Brain Sciences and Institute of Education, London, conducted a meta-analysis of various studies on the benefits of learning a second language. (A meta-analysis is a review of several important studies on a topic.) Positive effects on both verbal and visual creativity were found for all ages, including older adults. 

Learning a second language improves academic performance in other subjects

The same meta-analysis considered 20 studies that investigated the benefits of learning a second LANGUAGE ON general academic performance including math and science. 90% of the studies showed improved academic performance for students learning a second language.  Also, a major study of over 800 students in England found that scores for the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) were consistently higher for a majority of multilingual students. The multilingual students outperformed their peers in subjects including math, geography and science as well as in the foreign language sections (French and Spanish). This applied whether or not they actually spoke a second language fluently.

Learning another language improves general attention

The ability to focus attention required of second language learners has been shown to last over time and apply to other fields of study. For example, in one study conducted by Scottish university researchers, it was found that even a one week intensive language course improved attention. This effect remained at least nine months later, provided that the student practiced five hours a week or more. 

How can I get the most cognitive benefits of learning a second language?

Look for immersive, intensive, or semi-intensive courses, as these are  often the types of classes analyzed in the research studies. It’s worth noting that the cognitive benefits of learning a second language were often observed in students taking even a short term class. 

What are the social benefits of learning a second language?

You’ll meet new people when you learn a second language

English students of our Washington DC school enjoying an outdoor activity; (Photo/LANGUAGE ON)

Learning a second language for practical communication means practicing with your teacher and with other students. You’ll get to know people you wouldn’t otherwise meet, creating new friendships and networking opportunities. LANGUAGE ON’s course options offer you many ways to take advantage of the social benefits of learning a new language. 

Knowing a second language makes you more attractive romantically

Surprisingly, people whose dating app profiles indicate they speak more than one language have a significantly higher chance of getting a positive response. In a survey of users of a popular dating app, it was found that 66% would be more likely to respond to a person’s dating profile if that person says they’re bilingual. This was even higher for millennial respondents (aged 25-34), 77% of which said they’d be more likely to respond to a bilingual profile.

You’ll acquire a deeper appreciation of other cultures and the world around you.

Since language often reflects the subtle ways different cultures perceive the world around them, knowing another language can open your eyes and make you a more careful observer of your environment. One often discovers unique sensory experiences while studying a language. For example, when studying Spanish, speakers of other languages may learn the word “mole”, meaning a savory sauce that sometimes includes chocolate as an ingredient. This opens up a whole new world of taste where chocolate is no longer only for sweet dishes.

What are some other benefits of learning a second language?

You’ll come to understand your own language better

One of the benefits of learning a second language is rediscovering our first language. When we learn our first language, we usually do so as a child. We aren’t aware of how we’ve learned, as everything becomes automatic. However, when we are learning a second language later in life, we need to think consciously about such matters as grammar, idiomatic expressions, and so forth, especially in comparison with our native language. This process can lead us to becoming better speakers and writers of our mother tongue. 

Learning additional languages becomes much easier

Another of the many benefits of learning a second language is that it makes learning additional languages much easier. You will have learned “meta-language”, which is the language teachers and learners use to talk about the language, learning and teaching. Words and phrases such as ‘verb’, ‘noun’, ‘present perfect continuous’, ‘phrasal verb’ and ‘reported speech’ are all examples of common classroom meta-language. Knowing this meta-language helps you organize learning, so you can more efficiently learn additional languages. While learning your second language you will also discover what methods and techniques work best for you, and can be applied to make subsequent language learning easier.. 

You’ll gain self-confidence

Learning a second language at any level will boost your self-confidence. You’ll become aware of your overall intellectual capacity and be more confident in your success when you take on other learning challenges.  

What are the benefits of learning a second language for travel?

Learning another language has many benefits for travelers. Speaking the local language, or an internationally spoken language like English, can help with many practical aspects of traveling. You’ll be able to better read signs, get help with accommodations, and generally feel more secure about meeting any challenges as you travel. This in turn will make you more adventurous–if you can more easily communicate you’ll be more willing to explore areas off the usual tourist routes, try unfamiliar foods, and so forth. And being able to speak in a local language will also help break the ice in social situations.

What is the best way to get the benefits of learning a second language?

While it’s certainly possible to study a second LANGUAGE ON your own using apps or other online resources, there are many reasons why taking either a private or group class is the best option. Most of the people who have participated in research that demonstrates the benefits of learning a second language learned it in a classroom setting.  The social benefits of learning a second language will of course also be maximized when studying in a group or with a private teacher. LANGUAGE ON offers many types of courses for all levels of second language learners. Both private and group classes are available, as well as specialized courses in Business English and accent reduction

Learning a second language is one of the best ways to start a journey of self-improvement .  The benefits are long-lasting and will enrich every part of your life!

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