I love the title Yudhijit Bhattacharjee chose for his New York Times Opinion article, “Why Bilinguals are Smarter” (Mar. 2012). Your brain unknowingly goes through a significant structural change for the better when you learn an additional language.
Way back when, scientists thought that the brain could only fit a certain amount of information. Learning a foreign language would interfere with your native language ability, it was argued. Today, researchers have found that the brain actually stretches instead of strains. On both left and right sides of the brain, gray matter density increases in proportion to the level of foreign language proficiency. Additionally, the younger the second language is learned, the denser the matter will be.
When you learn a second language, it’s exercise for your brain. And it makes sense; neurons race around your brain lifting linguistic weights, swimming through a dense sea of lesser used vocabulary, biking uphill against cognitive challenges. Bilingualism improves executive and everyday brain functions such as planning and problem solving by frequently forcing the brain to work out internal conflict, keeping it active and sharp.
It was found that bilingual people also have increased efficiency in recognizing changes around them, better classification skills, concept formation, and analogical reasoning, sharper visual-spatial skills, enhanced creativity, better listening skills, and higher sensitivity to language than their monolingual counterparts.
Additionally, and perhaps one of the most rewarding benefits of bilingualism, is this recently discovered advantage: Bilingual minds are more resistant to dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s. One researcher adds, “the higher degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.”
Learning a foreign language not only allows you to communicate with a wider range of people in an increasingly globalized world, it spawns mental acuity and even provides mental health benefits. Learning a second language a smart choice.
Read more about the benefits of bilingualism: