What happens to your brain when you learn another language?

Learning a new language can literally make your brain bigger.

When you learn a new language your brain essentially has to grow in size to make new connections, as it has to learn how to do a brand-new activity.

Swedish Study claims it increase brain size

A study was conducted by the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy where they assigned students a task to learn a new language in a short period of time.

MRI scans conducted at the beginning of the study and then again at the end of the study showed that specific parts of the brain had developed in size. They found that this was purely because they were learning a language.

The scans of a control group that were tasked with something else showed no significant changes to the size of the brain

This proves that learning a language is really great for your brain for a number of different reasons

Improves Cognitive Function of the brain

Picking up a new language can also significantly improve cognitive functions of the brain.

Cognitive functions of the brain can range from the simplest task to the most complex. They can consist of how we learn, remember, problem solve and pay attention

A study found that young adults who were proficient in two languages performed much better on attention tests and had better concentration than those who could only speak one language

A long-term study had also shown great benefits of language learning as well.

The study was conducted where children had their brain scanned and then came back to them decades later and scanned their brains again. They found better cognitive function at an older age when they learned the second language at that early age.

This tells us that from learning a language at a younger age it will also help us have better cognitive function as we get older

This study also displayed that it slowed down brain aging in these people and held off Alzheimer’s by almost 4.3 years or thereabouts.

The brain functioning with multiple languages

So, what happens to your brain when you hear a word is that the sound is arriving in sequential order and your brain attempts to predict the words as it hears it.

Similar to google autocomplete when you’re searching for something in google and it is trying to predict what you are typing

For example, if I were to say the word “complete”, your brain will hear “com” your brain will try to predict the word I’m saying putting different words inside of itself, like: computer, competent, computing, compiler, etc.

It is trying to figure what is coming next constantly.

Now when you are bilingual this is going to include words from your second language as well, and it is going to try all of these different types of combinations. This is a lot of processing which requires a lot of effort.

It may change the way your brain functions

This would make you think that your language is determining what you are thinking which is not really true at all, but this is still being debated by professionals.

According to Roman Jakobson a world-renowned linguist, says that languages differ essentially in that they must convey not in what they may convey.

So, language doesn’t determine what you may think, but it can determine how you think about things. For example, the word “fork” in French is a feminine word whereas in Spanish it is a masculine word. Many Latin-based languages have masculine and feminine words

In a study they asked people to say a word in a cartoon voice. The participants in French said the word “fork” in a high-pitched voice as it is a feminine word and the participants in Spanish portrayed the word in a grunt sort of way as that word is masculine.

Now it’s the same word but we ascribe to the ideas to it based on our own language, our language determines the prism in which we see our own world.

Some indigenous tribes may say north, south, east or west, whereas we might say left or right. If you were to ask someone for directions they might say go down there and turn left. Now some people or tribes would say go down there and turn west.

So, depending on which way you are facing west will never change but left will. This is the consequence that people in this tribe will face as these people have a better special recognition because they always understand where they are facing

More descriptive vocabulary

Russian speakers have more words for light and dark blue are better able to visually discriminate different shades of blue.

This also works in English, think about this, designers and people who work in fashion are better at describing color and some theories suggest they may actually see more color than people who do not have words for it.

For example, if you see three different pinks in a row, some people will say “well that’s pink, that’s magenta and that’s fuchsia” some other people would just say “Well there all pink” This is language changing their perception

Difficulties of learning a new language

English is a Germanic language which makes languages such as Scandinavian and Dutch easier. And because its Latin based it makes French, Italian and Spanish easier to learn. The thing is there is no origin sharing with Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Arabic so that makes those harder to learn.

The easiest language to learn when you’re an English speaker according to the Foreign service Institute comes in various categories

Category 1

23-24 weeks or 600 hours at most. These include – Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch French, Spanish, Italian, Latin based languages generally are easy as English is based there

Category 2

About 30 weeks / 750 hours that includes German which has different pronunciations.

Category 3

36 Weeks are about 900 hours. These include Indonesian, Malaysian, Swahili. These are getting more and more complicated and less and less similar to your native language

Category 4

44 Weeks or about 1100 hours. This includes Thai, Albanian, Vietnamese, Russian

Category 5

2200 Hours. This includes Arabic Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and Korean

If you think about it these are all languages just like English… except they are not at all like English.

Some of these languages are based on idea grams instead of vocabulary construction, in the way that English is and on top of this is that Mandarin has a very famous way of speaking as it uses tones.

It has a variety of different tonal levels and different tones mean different things. This is why Chinese and similar languages are very difficult for English speakers as we’re not used to speaking in tones and science does say that tonal language speakers have a distinct advantage when they’re learning to play and understand musical instruments.

A study looked at Cantonese speakers who had no musical training, they possessed pitch and tone understanding similar to trained musicians as opposed to English speakers with no tone base.

So, languages are incredible for your brain, I think we can all agree

Do you know any languages? Are you inspired to pick one up? Leave a comment below on your experience


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