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September 2015

What are the benefits of being bilingual?

Some amazing reasons to learn a second (or third) language.

A recent TED-Ed lesson entitled “The benefits of a bilingual brain” discussed how learning a second language can improve brain health. The video suggested that there are three kinds of bilinguals: “compound bilinguals”, those who learn two languages while extremely young so that both languages develop together; “coordinate bilinguals”, those who already know a language but learn a second in school; and “subordinate bilinguals”, those who learn a second language later in life, relying heavily on their primary language to facilitate the learning.

Of course, learning a new language is easiest for compound bilinguals, the video states, as young children have developing minds, a plasticity to their brains that allows them to utilize both hemispheres of their brains. Adults just starting to learn a new language, however, rely more heavily on the logical left hemisphere to learn. This provides young children a more emotional grasp of their second language, while adults have a more rational capacity for their new tongue.

But what exactly are the benefits of being bilingual? Today we’ll go beyond the lecture and highlight some amazing reasons to learn a second (or third) language.

Because you deserve a well-exercised brain

Switching between one language to the next generates brain activity. Think of this as putting your brain on a treadmill (or perhaps it’s more along the lines of CrossFit). This activity boosts brain power, creating more of the gray matter that holds nerve cells in the brain, benefitting memory and attention. The brain is physically changed with the stimulus and cognitive brain function is enhanced.

It improves your communications skills

Learning a new language improves communications skills, especially with young learners. Aside from the grammatical benefits of study, learning to speak in a new language opens up a fresh perspective of the world. With the new view and a method to describe things, bilinguals are slightly more aware in terms of conveying ideas. It’s like giving a colorblind painter the ability to see vibrant hues.

It looks great on your CV and/or dating profile

Everybody knows that it’s not easy to learn a new language, and the ability to change one’s tongue is certainly impressive. Knowing a new language opens up opportunities both professionally and personally. Aside from impressing others, one’s ability to communicate to a new demographic of individuals is like opening a product to new markets. A second language allows personable connections to others who speak it and, at the very least, sounds really cool to those who don’t.

It protects you from dementia

While one cannot say being bilingual staves off dementia for good, the enhanced brain activity from learning and using a second language helps protect a brain from dementia. A study led by Tamar Gollan, a neuropsychologist at the University of California, San Diego, discovered that bilinguals were less likely to succumb to dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Traveling becomes more meaningful

Traveling is meaningful regardless of what one knows, however grasping the language of the destination opens up a whole new world. Conversing with locals in their native language offers a more profound experience than simply going through with a language foreign to them. Human connections are more readily made, and that’s possibly the best reason to learn a second language.

Do you speak another language? How has it affected the way you think or act? Let us know on Facebook and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on languages and culture!

Picture: Fotolia, (c) Rido

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