Being able to speak a little of the local lingo is always an advantage when traveling abroad. But a new study has found that broadening your linguistic horizons can actually help you think more clearly. Researchers at Edinburgh University compared 200 students of modern languages and humanities to assess the impact of their studies on their mental agility.
In particular, scientists focused on the student’s aptitude for concentrating on certain sounds, switching between counting up and down, as well as the ability to produce different words.
The test results of first-year students, who had only recently started learning a new language such as French, German or Spanish, were compared with those of fourth-year students who were already proficient.
Researchers discovered that students who had already been learning a second language for a few years were better at switching and being able to filter all the relevant information. The study demonstrates that learning languages is not only good for a person’s career and social life, but also has beneficial effects on cognitive functions that go well beyond the language itself.
While there were not too many differences between the two groups at the beginning, the fourth students showed a significant improvement. The language students not only improved their language skills, but they also improved in “attentional” tests.
This shows the benefits of any kind of academic study because the students of humanities improved as well. The latest findings build on two previous studies carried out by the University of Edinburgh. The first found that speaking a second language can improve thinking skills later
in life, while the second revealed speaking more than one language can actually delay the onset of dementia.
Learn two Languages Simultaneously
Learning two languages at once is a real challenge, but in many parts of the world, people live in multi-linguistic contexts. The brain is perfectly capable of switching between different languages. In fact, our brains can even benefit from certain special features when learning multiple languages at the same time.
Some useful tips for those who want to learn two languages simultaneously:
Choose two languages that do not come from the same linguistic family.
Languages that are closely related can be confusing to learn simultaneously, as vocabulary and grammatical structures are very similar. If you choose two very different languages, such as English and
Arabic, it will be much easier to keep them separate in your brain.
Begin studying the first language several weeks or months before you start studying the second language.
Once you have the basic first language skills, you will feel more comfortable learning the second language. Students learn languages more quickly after they have begun studying a foreign language.
Keep a written record of the vocabulary learned from each language and review it regularly.
You can make 3 x 5 cm cards and save them with vocabulary for each language. You can also have a notebook for each language and write new vocabulary words in each notebook as you learn. Regular reviews keep words fresh in your memory and avoid confusion.
Try to have dialogues with native speakers of each language with the aim of listening to the correct pronunciation of the languages.
If you think one language influences the other, listen carefully to native speakers and ask for feedback on the quality of your pronunciation.
Learn about the countries where each language is spoken.
As you learn about culture, history, and people involved in languages, the expressions start to make more sense and you will speak the language more naturally. You will also be able to remember the two separate languages better when associating each language with a distinct culture and people.