Why Learn a Second Language ( 838.2KB)

Didn't learn a second language as a kid? No
worries. Here's why you might want to learn
one anyway.
Believe it or not, before the 1960s, researchers thought children learning other
languages was a handicap.
Wait. Seriously? Yep.
As educator Mia Nacamulli explains in the TED-Ed video below, bilingual kids have shown
slower reaction times on some language tests. People back in the day made some hypotheses that
that must mean it's a drawback for students.
But researchers now know that learning another language is actually an amazing
way to keep your brain healthy.
It won't necessarily make you smarter, but Nacamulli points out it's now believed that being
bilingual* exercises your brain and makes it stronger, more complex, and healthier. And if you're
young, you get an added bonus.
*Fluently bilingual. Like, using it on a daily basis. Not just being able to remember — vaguely
and many years after that one seventh-grade class — how to ask, "¿Dónde está el baño?"
What does being bilingual really do?
1. It changes the structure of your brain.
Researchers have observed being multilingual can visibly make the neurons and synapses in the
brain's gray matter denser and spur more activity in other regions of the brain when using
another language. Basically, it's a brain workout! And another neurological study notes the white
matter in the brains of older lifelong bilinguals has a higher integrity compared to older
2. It strengthens your brain's abilities.
That gray matter up there contains all the neuronal cell bodies and stuff (that's a technical term)
that controls your muscles, senses, memory, and — you guessed it — speech. Newer studies
show that those slow reaction times and errors on language tests really reflect that the effort of
switching between languages is beefing up the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — the part of yer
noggin' that controls problem-solving, switching tasks, and focusing on important stuff while
filtering out what's irrelevant.
3. It can help delay Alzheimer's and dementia by as much as four or five years.
Yes. Sí. Oui. When bilinguals are compared to monolinguals, that is. And although some
cognitive research notes there's still a similar rate of decline after onset, more years of a superstrong brain is always a good thing.
Now, this fourth one gets a little bit nuts. Nacamulli says it's believed there's a key difference
between a young bilingual person and someone who learns another language in adulthood.
4. There's a theory that children who are bilingual get to be emotionally
The parts of the brain that are being strengthened while speaking multiple languages include not
just the analytical and logical side of the brain but the emotional and social side as well.
It's called the critical period hypothesis.
GIF via TED-Ed.
The separation of the hemispheres increases as we grow up, so when you're a kid — the
hypothesis holds — the two sides are a little more plastic and ready to work together while
learning language. Nacamulli says this could be why children seem to get the contextual social
and emotional nuances of other languages better than grown-ups who became multilingual later
and instead often think ... well ... like grown-ups.
Speaking more than one language turns our brains into powerhouses, and it
makes our children more emotionally intelligent!
It's definitely not a handicap. It's a superpower.