The benefits of learning a foreign language

We live and work in a world which is becoming more global. Markets are no longer confined to just one country and therefore knowledge of other languages and cultures is becoming essential. In order to gain an edge in the business world, more and more people are deciding to learn a foreign language. Bilinguals are often perceived as being clever, but it goes beyond a simple perception, as there are many studies which indicate that they are faster on cognitive tasks, have better problem solving skills, attention span and memory compared to monolinguals.

One such study (Bialystok and Martin, 2004) found that people who were multilingual were faster at completing a sorting puzzle than those who only spoke one language. The theory is that because there are two words associated with one item, the brain may be accustomed to making fast connections to both words and to choosing the most appropriate one.   In a study conducted in May 2012, Dr. Nina Kraus used brain scans to discover that being bilingual rewires your brain to enhance memory and attention, making your brain faster at sorting and retaining meaningful information.   Being bilingual can give your brain more of a workout than any amount of brain training.

Before you think that it is too difficult for an adult to become proficient at another language, a study (Ferman and Karni, 2010) has shown that this may not be the case.  The study concludes that a young age is not necessarily advantage to learning a language, because adults are more likely to understand and apply the rules of the language than children, who learn through experience and context.  Therefore, they argue that whilst children may be more adept at learning implicitly, adults seem to be better at learning explicitly.

In addition to strengthening your cognitive abilities, your perception of the world may be literally shaped by your language (Hai Tan et al, 2008). People who speak language, in which there exist more words for colours, have been shown to see the world in more colours.  This happens because we use language to categorize the world around us.  We use the words we have to store the information received by our senses. Therefore the more words and concepts we have for labelling what we perceive, the more labels we have against which to store that information.  In this sense, speaking more languages can help you see the world in HD and this works for colours, as well as ideas.  Some languages have more words for love than others, which probably means that people who speak these languages experience love differently.

A final powerful incentive for trying your hand at learning a foreign language relates to mental development and health. Recent studies have shown that being bilingual can delay the development of dementia for up to five years (2012).  To someone who is going to develop Alzheimer's, five years could make an enormous difference to their lives and to those of their families.




Adams. S. 2012, Learning another language 'could protect against dementia' The Telegraph. Web


Hai Tan. L, Chan.A, Kay.P, Khong.P, Yip. L, Luke.K., 2008, Language affects patterns of brain activation associated with perceptual decision

   Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Web


Leopold, W., 2012, Bilingualism fine-tunes hearing, enhances attention. Northwestern University. Web


Bialystok, E, Martin, M., 2004, Attention and inhibition in bilingual children: evidence from the dimensional change card sort task. Pubmed. Web.


Ferman. S, Karni A., 2012, No childhood advantage in the acquisition of skill in using an

 artificial language rule. Pubmed. Web



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:This writer holds Honours Degree in Psychology. She has been writing for magazines, blogs and content for websites for the last two years and her specific field of interest is psychology and the human condition. She produces research articles on a variety of topics, through a psychology perspective.

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