How learning a New Language Improves your Brain and Well-Being

Introduction


Nowadays, we take so much time focusing on developing and using sophisticated technology that we forget that the most sophisticated and advanced machine in the world is actually..our body.


How our bodies work


The infinite number of processes and mechanisms that take place just to keep us alive, without even our control, is just incredible and mind-blowing.


Like every machine, in order to avoid a shutdown, the body tries its best to regulate energy. It will, for example, shut down or reduce the production of muscle tissue for marathoners, because hey, running for a long time requires just a minimal amount of muscle mass!


Let’s use this logic in the context of the brain. Just like strengthening muscles, “exercising” the brain is the only way to make it stronger. As we saw for the case of marathoners, the body will only use and produce what it needs which can be manipulated by your daily activities. So, by learning something new, you are “exercising’ your brain, and your body will then adapt to make learning even easier!


The brain will, for example, build new neural connections related to the activity you are trying to master. If playing the piano is difficult at the beginning, after a few sessions, the connections between your brain and fingers will be smoother and you will, at least, start to see improvement. More specifically, your brain will increase neurogenesis, a process that creates new brain cells called neurons, which in turn makes your brain healthier and stronger in front of stress! The combination of new neurons and new neural connections is what changes you and gives you the ability to acquire a new skill.


We can apply this logic to learning a new language. Your brain is actively working by memorizing grammar rules, forming new sentences, and listening to the language. In the last case, specific brain cells called “mirror neurons” are activated and allow us to learn from observing or listening to others.


Neurologically speaking, bilingualism has been scientifically shown to alter the evolutionarily advanced parts of our brain that are related to the executive functions. This is huge because this is the part of your brain that is responsible, not only of your higher cognitive abilities like memory and focus but also your self-control! In other words, the process of learning, assimilating, and applying a language transforms you into a 2.0 version of yourself!


Now, if you’re still not convinced of improving your language skills, ask yourself this: “Do I want to become better at self-control, reduce stress, and generally become a happier person?”. I would think so. It helps to look at the bigger picture because you will soon realize that you have many more reasons for learning a new language, including improving your brain. By applying the right strategies, you can add not only a new language in your skillset, but also stress management, motivation, and productivity!


Think Short and Long term


The importance of improving our brain is crucial in times where diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are on the rise. Bilingualism, which is related to neurogenesis, can decrease these risks and improve one’s quality of life.


Since we've discovered that the brain is plastic, meaning adaptable and changeable even during adulthood, a range of new studies on animals and humans have shown that bilingualism, physical activity, and meditation are useful and powerful tools to increase brain plasticity.


For example, numerous studies have shown that students that participate in physical exercise before their tests, consistently achieve better results and also report a better ability to memorize, learn, and apply the acquired knowledge. Baffled by this discovery, scientists looked for the reason behind these findings and found out that the brain produces a protein that enhances the connections between brain cells and thus, makes the brain more receptive to new information.


So what are you waiting for? Take advantage of these discoveries, learn a new language, and improve your brain :)


Sources:


https://www.bbc.com/news/health-47403429

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-17952-001

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0177624

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5909012/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6069778/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5436710/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3622473/

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