Let’s Discover the Health Benefits of Language Learning

By Elisa Furlan

reviewed by juliana ascolani

“Speak a new language so that the world will be a new world.” – Rumi

There are currently 7,117 spoken languages in the world, according to Ethnologue.
In this career-focused world we’re living in,we have progressively less free time, and few of us choose to spend our free time studying. There are, however, people who voluntarily choose to spend a couple of hours a day learning a new language.

What motivates people to start learning a language?

We all have different reasons for wanting to learn something new. According to a recent study, conducted on older people, the reasons why they wanted to learn a new language – English, in this particular case — were:

  • A general interest in the language and the course, as well as a desire to understand texts in English. Curiosity is one of the strongest factors when you approach a new task. Taking on a new challenge can be difficult, but if you look at it from a different angle, you’ll see that the hours you spend bent over a book can greatly benefit your health and your life. Being able to understand texts in English – or any other language – means that you can chat with people from all over the world.

  • The desire to communicate with English-speaking people. Speaking only one language can be a hurdle when it comes to meeting new people and socializing. It is true that there are some languages that allow you to talk with the vast majority of the world population, but there is a strong link between the language and the people that speak that language. Being able to talk to more people means that you can have an insight into more cultures. As a recent study suggests, getting to know different cultures can improve your physiological arousal level and brain activity – this can lead to better performance when it comes to creativity, a huge factor in regard to wellbeing.

  • The desire to travel to a foreign country. Spending a couple of weeks in a foreign country and immersing yourself in the culture and the lifestyle can help you improve your language skills as well as your health. Apart from the wonderful experience each country can offer, travelling has an impact on ‘cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms’, says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School.

 

However, when addressing younger generations, the reasons behind learning a language are different. Job-related motives — such as access to more jobs or better-paid ones — and ways to study and communicate abroad are just some of the reasons behind why college students decide to learn a foreing language.

 

What are the benefits of language learning?

According to science, there are a lot of benefits of learning a foreign language, particularly if the language is acquired during childhood. Many studies have shown that early bilingualism – the ability to speak two languages from a very young age – can lead to an improvement in executive attention development.

The effects of early bilingualism can also be detected in older people. A study conducted on two groups of adults – one monolingual and one bilingual – showed that bilinguals were more protected from the dangers of aging and had a lower risk of developing dementia.

 

Is it too late to learn a new language?

Even if you only know one language, you don’t have to feel discouraged. You don’t need to be bilingual to benefit from language learning — your health can improve even after a short period of time. A recent study (2018) showed that a group of people who took part in a four-week language course had a significant improvement in a range of linguistic, cognitive, and socio-affective tasks. The improvement neither depended on biological age nor on bilingualism. If you want to take care of your health, you can still do so. It is never too late to start.

Apart from improving your physical health, language learning can help you improve your confidence level and your social interactions. The same people who attended the four-week English course were able to detect great improvements:

  • Their ‘time management in their everyday life was better’.  
    They ‘felt much better’, were ‘very content’ with themselves and ‘proud’ that they ‘persevered’.
  • They ‘felt more comfortable’ also because of their personal impression of being able to ‘remember more things’.

 

Fun ways to make the learning process easier

Studies have shown that attention span declines with age, which can be a bother when it comes to learning a new language. This means that learning a language can become harder the more you age. However, there are some ways that can help you make the process easier and funnier:

  • Singing. Who doesn’t sing in the shower? Apart from the pleasure of hearing yourself smash one of the greatest hits of the moment, singing can also help you memorize vocabulary and phrases short-term. After only fifteen minutes of listening to a song in a foreign language and repeating the lyrics, six adults who took part in a study were able to remember some words in that language. Imagine applying this method every morning. Spending less than twenty minutes doing something funny like singing can help you in your journey to fluency.

  • Social network. Most people, especially teenagers, spend a lot of time on social media; British teenagers, for example, spend six hours on average on social media every day. Even if it has been shown that spending a lot of time on social media doesn’t affect your health as badly as people think, choosing how you spend your time is very important. You can easily improve your health and benefit from language learning by rethinking the way you use tools you already have. According to Astin’s Theory of Student Engagement, the best learning environment is one in which it is possible to increase students’ engagement. A recent study proved that using a platform like Facebook for educational purposes can have a greater impact on your learning journey than following a face-to-face language course. We all have different learning techniques, but the most important thing is reaching your goal. If you’re feeling unmotivated to sit at your desk and study ‘the traditional way’, you could try joining a Facebook group where you can talk to native speakers of the language you’re learning.

  • A positive approach. Your emotions have an impact on how well you’re able to learn new vocabulary in a foreign language. Studies have shown that trying to learn a language in a negative or neutral emotional state can make your learning process much more difficult. Approaching new challenges with a positive mindset can help you achieve your goal, whether it is improving your health, your social interactions, or simply doing a funny and fulfilling activity for a couple of hours a week. This will not only improve your overall performance, but also your wellbeing and your mood.

 

The perks of language learning, as shown in this article, have been thoroughly studied. There’s no doubt that your health can greatly improve from studying a new language, but the most important thing is finding what works for you. If you’re feeling unmotivated to study a new language, you can easily find other activities that will make you feel better. It is not about the number of languages you need to learn, but about living your life in the most fulfilling and joyful way you can. 

Elisa Furlan
I am a positive and enthusiastic writer with an enormous passion for books. I am mostly interested in the fields of equal rights, global environment, and justice. I believe in the power of words: everything we know, we know because we read about it, heard it on the news, or someone told us – it is all connected to words. Contributing to change this world – the one and only one we will ever know – is a privilege as well as a duty: everyone can write something on the internet, especially these days; not everyone, though, can communicate effectively. It is my goal to help this world change, word by word.
Researcher

Juliana Ascolani

I am a health researcher who bridges data science and health research with direct experience in healthcare and university institutions, passionately and collaboratively pursuing the integration and synergy of all key areas of health and wellness. I believe in inclusion as the main pillar of our society, especially when it comes to health. Promotion and prevention in health empower people to adopt healthy decisions, thus I have been working during the last years in the development of inclusive and holistic health systems. What do I enjoy the most about my job? Realizing how we are making a difference in people’s lives, and seeing the result in their health journeys. I enjoy the challenge of questioning new paradigms and creating debate around them.

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