Psychological Benefits of Learning a Language

Paul Sullivan
  • Paul Sullivan
  • July 13, 2020

It turns out speaking a second language makes you smarter. Who would have thought? While it may not be the case that knowing a foreign language automatically makes you a genius, stretching your brain to learn a new set of words, expressions, and conjugations can improve not only your intelligence, but your psychological and physical well-being. So there’s no need to wait when it comes to learning a new language!

Health Benefits

Let’s start with the long-term benefits. Studies have shown that learning and speaking a second language can stave off age-related illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by as much as four years. Fluency isn’t essential to reaping these benefits—simply attempting to speak a second language is enough.

More in the short term, learning a second language can give you confidence. I know, I know, exposing yourself with your rudimentary grammar and rough vocabulary might seem detrimental to your confidence, but studies show the opposite is true: building your language skills from the ground (or any level) up will give you a sense of accomplishment and control, the exact ingredients for a confidence boost.

A smaller, but no less real benefit, is connection. Speaking a second language (and doing all that tough practice) forces you out of your habits and into the broader social world. Science has shown there is no substitute for the benefits of a rich social life; social activity increases life expectancy, accelerates disease recovery, and can help give you a positive outlook on life. Speaking to others in your newly acquired language is a great way to meet and make those connections!

Performance

Your boss should be super happy to hear that you’ve picked up a new language. After all, language learning has shown to be beneficial for both problem-solving and multitasking skills. It makes sense. In very few other activities do you have to integrate new information, apply complex rules, listen for clues and cues, and then integrate all three at once. It’s super stimulating, and once you get the hang of it, it will boost you to superhero levels of competency.

Perception

Regardless of whatever language you decide to learn, a new language will change the way you see the world. Studies have shown bilinguals tend to be more perceptive than monoglots with similar levels of education. For example, bilinguals may be more sensitive to nuances of colour that monolinguals will not distinguish. How is this possible? Well, a new vocabulary is like a new set of eyes; every time you learn a new way to express yourself, you become aware of those things you can express, and are sensitive to those things in your environment. Similarly, bilinguals are more likely to spot misinformation and tend to have more analytical (rather than emotional) associations with words, which makes bilinguals more decisive and less likely to be persuaded by propaganda.