Half of the world’s current population can speak at least two languages. Are you one of them? Have you thought about becoming one? Sure, we all know that speaking a second language is good for traveling and job opportunities. However, many people ignore the effects that it has on brain chemistry. Research has shown that as exercising changes your body, helping you develop muscles and be healthier overall, speaking a second language activates your brain and changes its structure too.
Here are some of the health benefits of being multilingual:
1. A more active brain
Bilingualism is associated with better maintenance of white matter during aging as well as developing more gray matter. Together, they boost brain acitivity and lead to better elevated mental and physical abilities, particularly in relation to learning. Moreover, speaking a second language can also help you develop other skills, that can be very useful in the work environment. According to several studies, studying another language helps with attention control, cognitive inhibition, and memory. Moreover, multilingual people are, on average, better at analyzing their surroundings, multitasking, and problem-solving.
2. Lower risk of dementia
A study from the University of Edinburgh published in 2013 a study that proved that there is a connection between multilingualism and the progression of dementia, as well as other cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s. The study concluded that, on average, bilingual people develop dementia four years later than monolingual ones. Another study in Italy showed that multilingual Alzheimer’s patients are, on average, five years older.
3. More cognitive abilities
Essentially, a new wat of looking at the world; language directly affects how we understand and see the world. Therefore, speaking more than one language will open your mind to different ways of looking at your life and experiences.
For example, Russian speakers can distinguish shades of blue easier than English speakers, because they have different words for different tonalities. Moreover, Japanese speakers tend to classify objects based on the material that they’re made of rather than their shape. And the fact that German syntax is more based on the outcome than the action, as opposed to English sentence structure, has been proven to result in German speakers focusing more frequently on the consequences of people’s actions rather than on the actions themselves.
Being able to switch languages, therefore, allows you to ‘choose’ your vision of the world, as explained by the researchers behind this latter study.
4. Better chances of recovery after a stroke
Speaking a second language might help you recover from serious injuries like strokes much faster. A study into 600 stroke survivors in India found that while 40.5% of bilingual patients had normal cognition, only 19.6% of monolingual survivors had such a good outcome. If you are bilingual, you are therefore twice as likely to recover from a stroke without long-term damage.
5. And, overall, a better understanding of cultural differences
Okay, this is not strictly scientific but multilingual people are exposed to different cultures and therefore different ways of looking at the world. For example, Chinese has a lot more words for relatives than English, because of the importance that they place on family and genealogy. Moreover, Malcolm Gladwell has explained the cause of the high rate of airplane crashes of Korean airlines in the fact that the Korean language is very hierarchical, and therefore the crew could only suggest the pilot that there might be an issue instead of talking to him as an equal and expressing their true concerns.
So, watch that movie in a foreign language, speak to your children in your native tongue, join that language class with your friends, try to learn the language of the country that you are visiting on your next holiday. Ultimately, it will improve your health and help you discover a brand new culture at the same time.
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