Learn a New Language, Exercise Your Brain

Just as a workout routine will stretch and strengthen your muscles, learning a new language can make your mind stronger and more flexible.

Along with opening your world up to new cultures and traditions, mastering a new language can improve vital cognitive functions that are often lost as we age. Here are four ways learning a language benefits your brain.

  1. Improves memory
    Building vocabulary and grammar skills is like lifting weights for your brain. It grows your memory with a completely new set of information. Learning a new language strengthens the network in your brain through the need to quickly recall words, phrases and grammar rules. A stronger, more connected brain network makes the brain more efficient for recalling such information.
  2. Delays cognitive declines that lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia
    In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, bilingual adults tend to have better executive function skills, which tend to decline as people age, than monolingual adults. Executive function skills are a general term for neurological skills that help us perform functions such as planning, organizing and remembering details. Delaying the decline of these executive function skills through learning a new language reduces the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in older adults by several years.
  3. Strengthens ability to multitask and handle stress better
    Learning a new language has been shown to improve decision-making skills. It allows the multilingual person to identify important details more quickly and easily, making them more level-headed and less stressed in their decision making.
  4. Improves native language
    While learning a new language, you will likely relate the new language to your native language, whether you realize it or not. Learning grammar rules, sentence structures, idioms and vocabulary in the new language makes you more aware of them in your native language.

There are many other benefits to learning a new language, such as being able to enjoy literature written in the author’s native tongue and being able to communicate with locals during your travels.

Worried that it is too late to benefit from a new language? Think again! You can reap the benefits of learning a new language at any age. You can still strengthen your brain and open your mind to new parts of this world whether you are a little kid or an older adult. You also do not need to be fluent in order to reap these benefits. As long as you are learning and understanding the basics, you can exercise your mind.

Plenty of local community centers and after-school programs offer introductory classes in many languages. Check out a community center near you or get started with online programs and mobile apps that feature lessons for beginners and advanced students in dozens of languages.

Photo credit: Steven Depolo

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