That’s right what you just read! Second language learning makes your brain grow in size and improves its performance in many other tasks!
When you learn a new language, your brain has to learn and adapt to a whole new thing that’s not related to any other thing you already know.
Well, you may argue that you already speak a language, so second language learning isn’t really a completely new thing!
But hold up, the grammar is -usually- completely different! The vocabulary might be a little similar depending on the language families, but usually, they’re different too.
Pronunciations and phonetic sounds are indeed a whole new thing for you. And learning how these linguistics components cooperate and cofunction together is like developing a new algorithm in your brain!
In other words, when you learn a new language, you are rewiring your brain and constructing an entirely new persona!
We’ll talk about this very thing a little more deeply towards the end of the article but first:
What is second language learning (SLL)?
Second language learning is the process of consciously developing the skill of speaking a new language. That is to say, SLL means learning a language systematically in a way that tells the brain ‘you are learning a new language.”
When you learn a second language by being in the environment where the language is spoken, or for instance as babies, is termed second language acquisition.
Second language acquisition happens when you’re drowning in the language without knowing it. Think of it as when someone moves to another country and works/studies there. The person finds himself or herself acquiring new words and sentences every day from everyday life. They pick the new language up just the way a baby does!
SLL on the other hand is the process of sitting down and using pens and papers and learning all these new grammar rules and vocabulary.
Which is better for the brain, second language learning or second language acquiring?
Researches we will be mentioning in this article have studied brains that spoke more than a language. While some of the samples were taught a new language in schools, some simply acquired it by being in the language’s environment!
That’s to say, you don’t really really have to focus on learning rather than acquiring (or vice versa) in order to make your brain bigger and sharper.
Any way you get yourself to speak a second language is great!
Yet, language learning is considered better for your brain because it’s harder and demands more cognitive comprehension of the mechanisms of a language, rather than a simple appliance. As a result, your mental stamina will improve and your perception will widen up!
Second language learning & Your Brain
Swedish study proves that learning a new language grows your brain in size:
Interesting and extensive research was initiated by the Swedish Armed Forces.
In this study, guinea pigs (a.k.a students) were split into two groups. One group was being taught a new random skill that’s not related to languages… It could be a physical and handy or mental skill. While the other group was tasked to learn a new language faster than the average student in Swedish schools.
MRI scans show that students who were involved in learning new mental or physical skills didn’t have any brain changes in terms of size or shape at all!
Better performance in learning different subjects could be noticed with a few samples, but it’s not something very notable.
On the other hand, scans of the students who were tasked to learn a new language fast had very noticeable brain shape changes and growth in specific brain areas.
While the growth size and form might be a little different from one student’s brain to another, brain development occurred in the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is a fragile brain part that’s easily affected by mental and physical activities. A weak hippocampus is associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, amnesia, and memory loss. On the other hand, a strong hippocampus is associated with long-term and deep memory and lower chances of getting Alzheimer’s at a later age.
Psychology researcher Johan Martensson at Lund University in Sweden says he was “surprised that different parts of the brain had developed to different degrees depending on how well the students performed and how much effort they had had to put in to keep up with the intense second language learning program.”
Second language learning improves cognitive functions. Says a study published in The Journal Frontiers Psychology
The Belgian psychology institution Frontiers in Psychology studied thousands of students in the past few years. This study was conducted on students from different parts of the world, and its prime goal was to see how young adults proficient in more than a language will perform in certain cognitive tests.
The biggest not-so-surprising finding of the study was that young adults proficient in two languages or more had longer focus spans, had better concentration abilities, paid more attention to details, and understood hard concepts faster than those who spoke only one language.
In this matter, check how you can 10X how fast you learn a new skill.
Learning a new language slows brain aging as per the American Neurological Association
The MYANA conducted very long research over the past few decades on tens of people.
What they did is that they scanned the brains of young kids and came back decades later to re-scan them and study their brains’ health.
Findings were that people who learned a second language at an early age reduced the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s by 9% compared to those who didn’t. Bilingual samples were also found to perform 40% to 250% better in Cognitive Function tests.
But the most interesting finding of this research is probably the fact that second language learning held off brain aging by at least 4.3 years compared to those who only spoke English.
Other fun facts to know about you, your brain, and second language learning
How does your brain work in the light of language?
Words are spoken in a sequential manner. That is to say, a word is a construction of a morpheme or more. A morpheme is basically a set of sounds that function together in different words.
For instance, the word unprecedented is made of three morphemes: 1-un: and it means not, 2-precedent, 3-ed which is used with adjectives and/or simple past with regular verbs.
Also, each morpheme is constructed of a phonetic sound! Sounds aren’t the characters we use because the same characters may be pronounced differently or not pronounced at all. For instance, we don’t pronounce the k in know or knowledge or knot.
And the letter S can be spelled as S in sun or as Z in functions. You can check more about the sounds in the International Phonetic Alphabets.
Nerd-talking aside, your brain knows all the above rules subconsciously! And it functions in accordance with how many phonetic sounds it can distinguish from a spoken speech, how many morphemes, how many words, sentences, texts… etc.
Your brain is like a search engine! Like Google for instance. When you type a letter, the search engines start guessing what you might be trying to look up based on what it already knows. And your brain literally does the same!
It starts guessing what the other speaking person is trying to say from the moment they send a sound out.
So, learning a new language means more sounds, more morphemes, and more words to predict.
This requires far more work from your brain! It demands more cognitive capabilities and efforts.
And since the brain is a muscle, the more you do hard missions, the stronger it becomes. In other words, second language learning is like going to the gym, it builds your muscles and makes them stronger.
Language doesn’t determine what you think, but It determines how you think!
When you learn a new language, you develop an entirely new persona. You start to see things and think about them in different manners.
For instance, English is gender-neutral. That’s to say, the vast majority of adjectives are used with female and male subjects alike. Objects, too, don’t have a gender. You can’t say it’s a male fruit or a female one in English.
But in Arabic, French, Spanish… etc all words are either female or male. For example, the moon is gender-neutral in English, in French it’s a female noun, and it’s male in Arabic!
If you think this is a normal thing, you may want to hold up for a second! Gender shapes and constructs how we think about objects. We correlate things to each other and we assign meaning to things based on how they relate to one another in our conceptual map.
For instance, the word fork in English is gender-neutral, obviously. But in French it’s a feminine word, in Spanish, it’s masculine!
In a research project, they asked participants in France and Spain to say the word fork in cartoon voices. What happened is that people in Spain made a low pitch deep sound when saying the word fork, while the French ones gave the word a high pitch light voice.
That’s simply because when Spanish people hear the word fork, they unconsciously directly start thinking about male characteristics, while the French do the opposite.
Need more? Let’s see interesting things about Russian!
Russians have more to their language than just scary sounds and other stereotypes we may have picked from movies. Russian is the language of the deepest ever written psychoanalytical novels and short stories; we’re talking about pieces by Dostoevsky, Chikov, Tolstoy, Gogol, and many other legends… I really recommend you check their absolutely great works. These are some recommendations that when purchased, we’ll make a small commission:
Going back to our topic, Russians have different words for different shades of colors than English speakers. So, The Russian speakers end up creating visually detailed memories about events than those who only speak English with the word Blue for all shades of blue for instance.
Still, most languages have different names for different shades. But we’re lazy creatures and we always try to say the least to convey the most. We try to save as much effort as possible.
So, we call all pink shades pink, for instance. But someone working in fashion or a digital designer will certainly see different colors and remember them in different names. Fashionists can remember actual names such as Barbie, Cerise, Baby, Bubblegum, hot, Dusky Rose, and whatever other names… While a designer can remember the codes of the colors such as F036A, F5347F… etc.
Some researchers and linguists and biologists may run the extra mile and suggest that when learning these different words for different shades (and objects) you actually end up seeing them physically!
Learning a new language is not just a fun journey that’ll teach you how to speak to new people. It’s far more than that. It’ll open up your perspective, make your brain bigger, and even protect your brain from different diseases. So, how many languages are you speaking & what language you will be learning next? Let us know in the comment section!