How multilingualism improves your brain

Knowing a second language is more than just a handy skill for travelling abroad. It makes you smarter in general. Natacha Partouns knows all about it because she is completely bilingual and studying to be a professional translator. So, what better person is there to tell us how being multilingual improves your brain?

Ever since I can remember I have been able to understand and speak two languages, jumping from one to the other effortlessly. It wasn’t until I was older that I realised this wasn’t a common occurrence, at least not at such a young age. Has learning two languages in my early childhood years affected my brain? Well the answer to this question is yes. What about those that learn a new language later on in life? According to recent research, adults proficient in at least two languages, regardless of the age at which they took up the new language, perform better at standardised intelligence tests compared to their counterparts who only speak one language.

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Many medical studies have proven the positive effects of learning a new language on cognitive ability. Learning a second language increases brain activity in regions which would otherwise remain less stimulated. In other words, becoming multilingual is a great mental workout! Not only does it have health benefits for your brain, such as delaying the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia by as much as five years, multilinguals also have better memories, are more cognitively creative and mentally flexible than monolinguals.

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More than just improving the cognitive function of the brain, learning a new language allows individuals to become more open towards foreign cultural values. This has often come in handy when communicating with the parents of the HOOP students. As the teacher of the youngest class, Butterfly, this is particularly important. Of course, when teaching three to five year-olds, there will be accidents, bumps, scrapes, and paint-related mishaps in class, which then need to be explained to the parents, especially when they run out of class with paint all over their face!

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The ability to speak Spanish in this situation is incredibly helpful for all of the parties involved as we can help the mothers understand that our creative approaches to English language learning are important in Butterfly’s development as a group of young students. Situations like this always remind me of how useful multilingualism is for international volunteers, especially in a society such as Flora Tristan, where languages outside Spanish and Quechua are rarely spoken.

For most people, including the children of Flora Tristan, improving brain function is far from being the principal goal of language learning. Individuals usually take up new languages for personal or professional reasons. More than half the world’s population uses two or more languages every single day although the exact number of multilinguals in the world is unknown. In most instances, speaking several languages, especially here in Peru, is of advantage in securing a job. Teaching the children English as early as possible is therefore doubly advantageous, not only will they have improved their brain function, which will most definitely come in handy during math class, they will also be likely to secure a job when finishing their studies which will, in turn, help them break the cycle of poverty and secure a better future for themselves.  

Reference: Medical Daily

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