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Can learning a second language make you smarter?
Growing up speaking Dutch and later on learning english, I myself am considered a bilingual. Through my experiences and by knowing many other bilingual people with thick accents I’ve often noticed how monolingual people act and speak differently towards bilingual people.
As soon as I started learning English at the age of 11, I started to loath my accent and I worked very hard to lose it. I had always done well in my first language throughout school and I wanted to do just as well in English.
But instead of hating accents, I now admire anyone who is trying to learn a new language — no matter what they sound like.
It’s true that in many cases bilinguals have a very simple vocabulary but we shouldn’t be dumbing down our English in order to stay within their vocabulary range.
Maria-Jesus Plaza, a Spanish professor at MRU explains that bilingual speakers are much more susceptible to learning more languages. “Your brain is tuned to make all these arrangements and pick up sounds, so it’s much easier for [bilinguals].”
Plaza explains that bilinguals learn to think of ideas in a broader context.
“You don’t only think one way, you learn different meanings for the same concept.”
A study in the Journal of Memory and Language showed that bilinguals are actively using multiple languages at the same time, and as each language is constantly activated it gives the brain a cognitive boost allowing for better multitasking and improved attention.
The cognitive boost that improves multitasking is also the reason why bilinguals have a better memory, leading to a delay in the onset symptoms of dementia by 5.1 years. That’s five extra years to learn another language!
Physically, the brain actually grows as a new language is learned according to the book, Growth of language-related brain areas after foreign language learning.
So, not only do bilingual people have better cognitive abilities and growing brains, they also scored higher in general intelligence and reading comprehension.
Dr. Thomas Bak, from the Centre for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh created a study to show that the increase in attention, focus and fluency was only explained by the learning of a new language.
Most of us have thought about taking up a second language at one point or another. However, we are often put off because it requires much of our time and seems like a daunting task. We have been led to believe that learning a second language at a young age is much easier so perhaps some of us think it’s too late for to give it a try.
But, it is important to establish why it is more difficult.
“It’s more difficult when you are older, but mostly because adult students are more self-conscious about making mistakes before speaking the language. Young kids don’t feel intimidated,” says Plaza.
So just because we are older we shouldn’t be afraid to learn another language. We shouldn’t be afraid to sound less intelligent because in reality you are gaining intelligence and opening doors to endless opportunities.