What your second language does to your brain
According to statistics, 40 percent of the world population are monolinguals, 43 percent are bilinguals, and the rest speak more than two languages fluently. Bilingualism is a norm. (Data 2021)
The scientists around the world wonder how speaking a few languages affect our brain; before it was believed that speaking 2 languages slows down the cognition and learning. However today the research proves speaking more than 1 language boosts your brain in truly fantastic ways!
Bilingual (or multilingual) people have stronger empathy skill and develop dementia and Alzheimer’s years later than monolingual ones. Very impressive! But I’ve got more for you! Being fluent in more than one language could help protect your brain from injury and assist in quicker recovery from strokes.
It is really a captivating thought that a language can have such profound effect on neurological structures and processes.
It has long been established that humans’ capacity to use their native language is stored in the left hemisphere of the brain in over 90% of the normal population. The main (but not only) parts of the brain involved in language processes are the Broca’s area, located in the left frontal lobe, which is responsible for speech production and articulation, and the Wernicke’s area, in the left temporal lobe, associated with language development and comprehension.
Language learning, however, is a very complex process and scientists have determined that it is not limited to any hemisphere of the brain, but instead involves information exchange between the left and the right sides. And it’s not surprising considering how many elements learning a language includes:
- remembering words (lexicon)
- sound system, pronunciation (phonology)
- writing system (orthography)
- grammar (syntax)
- peculiarities of using language in social interactions (pragmatics)
All these elements require brain to activate its different parts simultaneously including corpus callosum – white matter, the pathway between right and left hemispheres that helps transfer and integrate the information between them. All these areas of the brain are being trained and enhanced during the learning process, for example white matter increases in volume and in the number of fibers.
For people who speak more than one language it takes an effort to switch between them. This mental exercise appears to be what boosts gray matter volume and density in other regions of the brain, as we learn how to use the right language at the right time we are exercising the regions of the brain responsible for problem solving, switching between tasks and focusing while filtering out irrelevant information, analyzing the environment, multitasking, having a larger working memory even if the task at hand is not related to language.
Knowing about the great benefits that learning a foreign language can give you and realizing the complexity of the process that you brain engages in, you could probably decide to be extra supportive of yourself on this long and exciting journey – learning another language means opening another world for yourself.