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9 Mental Health Benefits of Learning a New Language

Maria Claudia Alvarado Published on June 19, 2024

There’s a plethora of reasons to learn a second language. Maybe you want to travel with ease or read your favorite author in their original language. But learning a language also has huge benefits for your mental health. In addition to improving cognitive function and alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression, it can even help delay the onset of mental disease. In this article, we’ll look at how studying a new language can improve your memory, mood, and self-esteem. There are even some tips on how to get started learning so you can start exercising your brain immediately.

How Learning a Language Can Benefit Your Brain

From delaying the symptoms of degenerative brain diseases to keeping your mind sharp, let’s look at the positive impacts learning a language will have on your mental health:

1. Delays Symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimers

One of the most important mental health benefits of learning a second language is that it can protect you from cognitive decline and delay the symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimers. Bilingual people often have to switch between their native and their acquired language, which reinforces the connections between nerves and neurons in the cognitive side of the brain.

This leads to a higher familiarity with vocabulary and grammar which results in more neuroplasticity. This means that your brain can form new neuronal connections to adapt and retain new information. As a result, it’s easier for your brain to cope and delay the damage caused by neurodegenerative diseases.

2. Recover Your Cognitive Abilities After a Stroke

Learning a language it’s great for the brain but it can also protect it from injuries. In fact, you’re twice as likely to recover from a stroke if you speak more than one language. This is a result of the development of your cognitive functions. When you study a new language, you stimulate the cognitive reserve of your brain that is in charge of memory, language processing, and other executive functions. This strengthens the connectivity between neurons and this protects your cognitive reserve from strokes and other brain injuries.

3. Increase Your Memory Span

People who know more than one language have a better memory than those who only speak one. When you learn a new language, you improve your ability to retain new knowledge in order to make progress and communicate. This means that, by using your language skills, you’re constantly exercising your memory. 

As a result, it’s easier for your brain to make connections and associate meaning with words. You also won’t struggle as much with recognizing patterns and adapting to other languages in the future. It has been proven that learning a language can reduce the impact of aging on brain functions, which means you’ll be able to retain information for longer periods when you reach an older age.

4. Improve Your Focus

Your attention span is also positively affected when you study a foreign language. Bilingual people can focus on one task better than monolingual speakers. This is because, regardless of the language you’re studying, you constantly need to focus on different aspects of the language to be able to learn to communicate in it. For example, you need to carefully listen to the pronunciation of Arabic words to develop your listening and speaking skills.

A man is studying with a book and a calculator.

This helps your brain become more adaptable and flexible to new changes, which also improves your problem-solving skills. As a result, your brain quickly learns to filter out irrelevant information to focus only on the tasks that need to be completed.

5. Have An Easier Time Multitasking

Learning and communicating in a language that’s different from your one isn’t easy, and it often involves using more than one skill at once. To start, you need to be able to separate the language you’re learning from the one that’s native to you. And, you have to create sentences while following a correct grammar structure, applying exceptions, and using the correct sounds to pronounce each word.

By studying a new language, you strengthen the executive functions associated with multitasking. This is why speaking a foreign language becomes easier with study and practice. But, it also means that it’ll be easier for your brain to complete more than one task at once in the future.

6. Strengthen Your Creative Side

Learning a new language also helps you improve your creativity because it requires you to constantly think of new ways to express yourself. For example, if you don’t know a lot of vocabulary yet, you might need to think of new ways to convey your message. This includes using synonyms or similar-sounding words but it can also include idiomatic phrases you’ve heard before, hand gestures, and even facial expressions. Learning a language is all about problem-solving!

A picture of someone painting with acrylic paint.

7. Reduce the Symptoms of Depression

If you’re struggling with depression, you might also find that learning a new language provides a mindful state of feeling. When you study a new language, you engage in different activities that take your mind away from all the negative thoughts associated with depression. For example, you might listen to music and watch videos in your target language, practice writing new alphabet charts, and complete different interactive activities to boost your vocabulary and grammar knowledge. 

While you might be studying to improve your language skills, engaging in these activities is keeping negative thoughts at bay. Completing smaller goals relevant to language learning is also a great way to build a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Learning a language is a process that makes you aware that you’re able to accomplish your goals, which might provide you with some relief if you’re going through a difficult time.

8. Reduce Your Social Anxiety

One of the many pros of learning a language is the ability to communicate and connect with more people. Because speaking is a required aspect of effectively learning a language, you need to constantly engage in conversations in your target language to make progress. And, while this is a great way to practice your language skills, it’s also helpful to reduce your social anxiety.

Two women and a man are having a conversation.

Exposing yourself to social interactions and exercising your conversational skills are methods used to reduce the symptoms of social anxiety. At the same time, other benefits in your cognitive functions like alleviating depression and expanding your creative side also play a role in helping you feel less anxious around others.

9. Feel More Confident and Recognize Your Abilities

If you need to boost your self-esteem, learning a new language can be a great way to develop your confidence. Studying a new language gives you a chance to test your abilities and see how much you’re able to achieve. Even if you’re struggling at the beginning of your language studies, there’s nothing more empowering than the moment you realize you understand what’s being said.

What’s great about languages is that, regardless of how different they are from one another, studying them requires you to follow a similar process: you start with the most basic knowledge and gradually build upon what you learned. And, once you’re familiar with this process, you’re less likely to feel intimidated by learning other languages because you know you can do it! Remember to celebrate small achievements along the way and you’ll find that you feel more motivated to continue studying.

Start Learning a New Language With These 7 Tips

Now that you’re familiar with the benefits that come with learning a language, it’s time to start studying! To help you get started, here are 7 tips to make your studies easier and more effective:

  • Set small goals: Setting smaller goals can make your journey more rewarding as you reach accomplishments more frequently. Try setting goals like “studying for one hour each day” or “practicing speaking for 30 minutes” to keep you motivated while you make progress.
  • Listen to music and watch videos: Listening to music or watching videos in your target language is a fun way to develop your skills without studying the basics. With consistency and time, you’ll be able to recognize the most frequently used words and phrases.
  • Start speaking as soon as possible: The sooner you start speaking the language you’re studying, the easier it will be for you to communicate in real-life situations. And, there are apps like Pimsleur that can teach you how to speak from your first lesson so you can start learning the right way.
  • Include your interests: Including your interests in your studies can help keep you motivated. Search for Pinterest boards, blogs, or magazine articles written in your target language. There are also thousands of podcasts and YouTube channels available for whatever language you’re interested in.
  • Find a language exchange partner: Thanks to the Internet, now you can find a language exchange partner to practice your target language regardless of where you are. To start, you can try platforms like HelloTalk or Tandem.
  • Use social media: There are many helpful communities of language learners online and you can use social media to connect with them. This is a great way to share tips, useful resources, and feedback while you make new friends.
  • Don’t forget to practice reading: Reading is an important part of learning a language, but you don’t have to start with complicated texts. Instead, try shorter texts like comics or look for language books created for beginner language learners.

There Are No Cons to Learning a New Language!

In this article, we’ve looked at the positive impact learning a language can have on your brain. But, you might ask if there are any drawbacks. When it comes to your mental health, there really aren’t any negatives. Even if it’s hard at the beginning or you get frustrated, this experience is all about developing your skills and showing yourself that you’re capable of reaching your goals. 

Keep in mind that learning a language isn’t a cure-all for mental illness. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, or you have noticed signs of deteriorating mental health, reach out to a trained professional who can assist you.

But if you’re ready to give your brain a challenge, there are tons of resources available to help get you started. Many resources can also help you adjust your language studies to make them as easy or as challenging as you desire.  With such a multitude of options available, all you need to do is think about which language you’d like to learn!

Maria Claudia Alvarado

Maria Alvarado is a content writer and translator from Lima, Peru. She graduated from the Savannah College of Arts and Design in 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in Writing. She is fluent in Spanish and English, has intermediate knowledge of French and German, and is learning Japanese. She hopes to bring consciousness about the importance of language learning through her articles and aspires to learn as many languages as possible.

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