There are obvious benefits to speaking different languages: more places feel like home, you are highly employable and can chat with the people around you easily. But there are hidden benefits too, as recent research shows.
More languages, more ways of seeing things. The bilingual mind has been a hot topic of research for the last 15 years. A recent report called Two Languages, Two Minds, published in Psychological Science, builds on this and reveals that you may see the world differently depending on the language you use.
Researchers described experiments in which German/English speakers were shown video clips of things happening, someone walking towards car or a person cycling to a supermarket for example.
In a Guardian newspaper interview co-author and psycholinguist Panos Athanasopoulos of Lancaster University, UK, explains, ‘English monolingual speakers would simply describe those scenes as ‘A woman is walking’, or ‘A man is cycling’, without mentioning the goal of the action.’ German speakers are likely to imagine where a woman is going.
He puts this down to grammar and the different ways in which the languages describe action in the present. This linguistic difference seems to influence how speakers of the two languages view events, according to the new study.
‘By having another language, you have an alternative vision of the world,’ Athanasopoulos says. ‘You can listen to music from only one speaker, or you can listen in stereo … It’s the same with language.’
So what happens to your brain when you can juggle languages?
Just as regular exercise benefits your body, researchers now believe controlling two, or more, languages benefits your brain.
In the online news portal, The Conversation, Christos Pliatsikas Lecturer in Cognitive Psychology at University of Kent, says language learning restructures the brain. ‘Bilingualism has been shown to increase the volume of grey matter in several brain areas that are usually connected to language learning and processing,’ he explains.
How can you get the most from this mental workout?
Learning another language is a very good start, but Pliatsikas’ research finds that being immersed in the second language is best for the brain. You need to use your second, or third languages: knowing them is not enough. Connections in the brain grow denser when the languages are spoken regularly.
So, now there’s another excellent reason to pop your head around the door of your nearest EURES adviser: greater work opportunities, greater work out for your brain!
Speaking More Than One Language Could Sharpen Your Brain
What happens in the brain when you learn a language?
Speaking a second language may change how you see the world
Video: The benefits of a bilingual brain