Boost Your Brain With A New Language
By Paul Rothbart
Learning is something we constantly do throughout our lives. It may be skills for a new job, a recipe to try, or even just stories in a local newspaper. Learning is good for the brain. One thing you may not have considered is learning a new language.
Being bilingual can be helpful in a job or make it easier to travel through other countries. It can also be fun. I was once enjoying a sunny day in Central Park when a couple approached me, held out a camera, and asked me to to take their photo. In Italian. Fortunately, this is a language I speak fairly well. Not only did I take the photo, but I chatted with them briefly. It was a rewarding experience for all of us.
Learning a new language is a challenge, but a worthwhile one. Science has shown that there are many benefits for the brain that come from acquiring skills in another language. Here are some of the ways that it can boost the brain.
Executive function is the mental skill set that allows planning, as well as controlling and directing attention. It also helps to focus on the most important information for the task at hand. As skills in a new language develop, the brain learns to focus on the language being spoken, using that vocabulary and grammar in order to communicate effectively. This develops executive function and carries over to other situations. It becomes easier to shut out distractions and focus on what we are doing.
Increase in Gray Matter
The most complex functions of the brain are the executive functions. Being bilingual improves these functions by increasing the grey matter of the brain. It becomes more dense because it develops more cells. This improves brain health and cognition. Learning a new language also affects the white matter. This part of the brain consists of fatty substances that connect the neurons in the brain and allow information to travel faster. When you can communicate more quickly in a second language, thinking and cognitive functions also happen faster.
Slowing Brain Decline
Studies show that brain decline begins at about the age of 25. It starts slowly but gradually increases as we age. Memory is degraded and processing speed slows. Being bilingual lessens the rate of decline and helps keep the brain sharp even in senior citizens. The brain develops new connections that compensate for those that have been lost. This allows the mind to function at higher levels than would otherwise be possible.
Acquiring new skills is healthy, useful, and enjoyable. Learning a second language is one of most beneficial things you can do to boost the brain. You might also make a new friend or render aid to someone struggling to communicate. It's a good feeling.
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