4 Reasons Learning Languages is Good for Your Brain

4 Scientific Reasons Why Learning

Languages is Good for Your Brain


It’s very difficult to estimate just exactly how many people speak a second, or third, language in the United States and even more so for the entire world. One of our biggest hurdles in finding this answer is how we ask the question. “Does this person speak a language other than English at Home?” As Michael Erard argued in this New York Times Op-Ed piece, many bilingual people don’t speak their second language at home. Despite this, about 20 percent of the 316 million people living in the United States in 2013 answered “Yes” to this question, comprising 61.8 million U.S. residents.


A more properly worded question asked on the other side of the ocean produced results indicating that 56 percent of Europeans can hold a conversation in a language other than their native tongue. Globally, although data is often quite difficult to obtain for a number of countries, linguists estimate that more than half the global population is at least bilingual.


One question many in America might ask themselves is “Why should I learn a second language?” It’s true that for many decades, large swaths of America haven’t needed to learn another language because it’s typically expected of immigrants to learn English, English is often used as a business lingua franca around the world, and most of America operates in English despite having no official federal language. That being said, some communities in America are literally packed with different cultures, languages, and people. For example, 60 percent of Los Angeles residents are at least bilingual, and throughout the whole state of California, 44 percent of households speak a language other than English at home.


But for those of us who don’t live lives that require bilingualism, here are some alternative reasons to pick up another language:


1. Multitasking

People who know more than one language have been shown to be better multitaskers in a variety of scientific studies. One such study, described in this research, had monolingual and bilingual eight-year-old children perform non-verbal tasks, some of which contained unnecessary sensory information and distractions. While both monolingual and bilingual children performed similarly on the tasks without perceptual distractions, the bilingual children outperformed the monolingual children in the tasks with distractions. Pennsylvania State University also published research indicating that bilingual children developed certain mental abilities such as “editing out irrelevant information and focusing on important information.”



2. Dementia and Cognitive Decline

One study shows that adults who are bilingual on average demonstrate symptoms of dementia four years later than monolingual adults. Another study concluded that bilingualism works wonders in the brain late into life by helping to maintain cognitive functions, that is, to keep the brain engaged and stimulated while monolingual brains might start slowing down. Speaking in a foreign tongue might be an interesting skill to show off at parties, but it also might quite literally save your life.



3. Memory

When it comes to memory, especially in the development of memory in the brains of infants and toddlers, this study found that being raised bilingually or in a bilingual setting gave children a clear advantage when their memories develop. Another study confirmed these findings for older children, concluding that “older bilinguals showed higher estimates of recollection than their monolingual counterparts in the verbal task, and bilinguals in both age groups showed a marginally significant advantage in recollection in the non-verbal task.”




4. Brain Efficiency

Researchers at the University of Pompeu Fabra conducted a study that involved scanning the brains of both bilingual and monolingual participants to see which lobes and which regions they were using for which types of tasks. They found that speaking “two languages does not significantly affect overall L1 auditory word processing, … that bilingualism affects native speech production process,” and bilinguals showed greater activity in two lobes of the brain than monolinguals did. The study also refers to previous research stating that bilinguals use parts of the brain designated for language more than monolinguals during speech-production tasks.



If you didn’t already need convincing that learning a language is good for business, good for your career, good for traveling, or just good fun, hopefully you’ve taken away from this article that learning languages, even later on in life, is just plain good for your brain. But even if you decide to take up a second language, you can come to Ata Translation Agency for translation, localization, and interpretation in the hundreds of other languages your business might need to operate. We work in over 300 languages and dialects, offering a wide array of language services to meet all your business, personal, and legal needs and more.

About the Author:

Daniel is based out of Chicago and works as a writer, editor, and translator.

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