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The Top 3 Psychological Benefits of Learning a Second Language

Traveling to Europe or an island in the Caribbean this summer or considering a gap year in a foreign country?  If you’re US born, speaking a second language like Spanish or French can certainly make foreign travel easier.  Plus, after your sunburn fades and you’re back in class, you may find additional opportunities from bilingualism like increased career opportunities – a fact certainly true for those born outside the US that speak English.   A survey from LA based recruiter Korn/Ferry International found that nearly 9 out of 10 headhunters in Europe, Latin America, and Asia say that bilingualism is important for a successful career today.  And according to Salary.com, a bilingual’s pay rate can range between 5 and 20 percent more per hour than the position’s base rate.

But are there other benefits besides easy travel or career opportunities for the bilingual that justify hitting the books longer, or taking that online Spanish course during your free time?

More and more research is revealing a long and convincing list of psychological benefits to bilingualism; these Top 3 may convince you:

 

  1. Delay Dementia and Alzheimer’s

In a study done by Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, researchers compared bilinguals with people who spoke only one language (monoglots) and found that learning a second language and speaking it regularly can improve your cognitive skills and delay the onset of dementia for an extra four years on average.   Their study also suggested that school-level language skills used only occasionally may also improve brain function to some extent.

 

  1. Increase Mental Function

A study done at PennState University by psychologist Judith Kroll indicated that speaking more than one language keeps the brain in shape and improves mental function.  The study found bilinguals performed better than monoglots in mental tasks like prioritizing and multi-tasking.  While these skills don’t necessarily make people more intelligent or better learners, bilinguals are better at prioritizing tasks and working on multiple projects at one time.  Other studies have shown that these benefits persist in daily life instances, with bilinguals better at remembering shopping lists, names of people recently met, and directions to a new destination.

 

  1. Improve Decision Making

Researchers from the University of Chicago found that bilinguals react less emotionally to the meaning of words, expressions and advertising slogans in their non-native tongue and suggested this may make people rely more on their analytic processes to make decisions.  Plus, a study done in Spain also showed that the improved focus of bilinguals helped them to better spot misleading information.

This is good news for all of us, not just those who learned a second language and speak it fluently at home.  According to a study by Dr. Thomas Bak at the University of Edinburgh you don’t need to be fluent in a second language to see the dementia-delaying and other positive effects; it just matters that you try.

To learn more, visit psychcentral.com

 

The Top 3 Psychological Benefits of Learning a Second Language

Amie Kolodziej

Amie Lee Kolodziej is a content editor, writer and consultant with over 10 years of experience managing professional development, education and thought leadership programs for executive, entrepreneurial and public audiences. As Managing Director of The ARK Consultants, she has worked with community-driven non-profits and international organizations in global industries to educate professionals in career and personal development. Previously she helped develop content on The Dr.Drew.com Show, featuring host Dr.Drew Pinsky of MTV’s Loveline in interviews with celebrity guests on psychology topics including addiction, depression and other mental and emotional issues.

4 thoughts on “The Top 3 Psychological Benefits of Learning a Second Language

  • July 29, 2015 at 6:37 pm
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    Sure, we love all the things meditation does for us. But it could also benefit people we interact with, by making us more compassionate, according to a study in the journal Psychological Science.

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  • January 31, 2017 at 12:16 pm
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    Thank you for all this great information about learning a second language! One thing that I never knew is that it can actually delay dementia and Alzheimer’s! Since my family has a record of getting those, it would be nice to learn another language to see if it helps me out.

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  • August 23, 2017 at 11:43 am
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    It’s incredible that learning a second language could help delay dementia from taking effect for up to four years. That would explain why my mom is still so sharp because she learned how to speak Spanish and Portuguese when she was in her twenties. I wonder if talking to a psychologist would help illuminate other ways to help her push off dementia for a few more years.

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  • April 3, 2018 at 10:57 am
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    I think it would be really cool to learn a second language. It’s fascinated to know that doing so can help people perform better in tasks such as prioritizing and multi-tasking. This would definitely help make all the hard work you have to put into learning a second language worth it.

    Reply

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