Learning a new language requires significant involvement of the entire brain. When we know that the brain can be “trained”, the question arises whether learning a foreign language can serve as a successful exercise for the brain? And if so, does that mean that people who are bilingual have better cognitive abilities than people who only speak their mother tongue? Are there differences between bilingual and multilingual individuals in cognitive abilities? And can speaking foreign languages protect us from degenerative brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? We did the research for you!
Our research shows that language learning is a powerful activity when it comes to improving the structure and function of the brain! Learning a foreign language affects the brain both at the molecular level and at the level of overall behavior. If we look only at cognitive abilities, it improves memory, inductive thinking (inference from the individual to the general), discrimination of sounds and segmentation of speech (identification of boundaries between phonemes, syllables and words). In other words, it stimulates important cognitive abilities that keep our brain awake and active!
Studies of foreign language learning in old age best show how beneficial foreign language learning is for the functioning of the brain. A study conducted on a sample of 26 healthy people aged 59-79, showed that learning a new language improves the cognitive abilities of the elderly as well! The research lasted four months, during which time these individuals had 16 hours of English lessons for beginners (two hours per week). The results showed a significant improvement in cognitive abilities globally (memory, thinking, learning…), as the activities of neural networks in parts of the brain that are critical to the development of degenerative brain diseases.
Furthermore, research also shows that the more foreign languages you speak, the better for your brain! Multilingual individuals show significant resistance to cognitive deficiencies compared to bilingual individuals. However, this difference depends on age, and is not found in a sample of children and youth who speak two or more foreign languages. This goes in favor of the fact that speaking foreign languages slows down the aging of the brain!
By stimulating the cognitive abilities and the work of the neural networks of the brain, the aging of the brain is consequently influenced. Therefore, we can say that learning foreign languages, even in adulthood, is a neuroprotective factor and stimulates the brain’s resistance to degenerative diseases. In support of this are data that people who speak at least one foreign language all their lives are significantly less likely to suffer from diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The explanation lies in the constant activation of the brain by speaking a foreign language, with the moment of transition from one language to another being particularly significant. It turned out that the part of the brain that is in charge of switching from one language to another is partly responsible for the development of degenerative brain diseases. By strengthening the neural networks in this part of the brain, we prevent these diseases!
If you haven’t learned a foreign language yet, here’s the motivation to get started! Not only is learning a language fun and rewarding, but it also protects your health. We, the translators, are especially happy about that!
Bubbico, G., Chiacchiaretta, P., Parenti, M., Di Marco, M., Panara, V., Sepede, G., … & Perrucci, M. G. (2019). Effects of second language learning on the plastic aging brain: functional connectivity, cognitive decline, and reorganization. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 13, 423.