Published On: Mon, Jul 31st, 2017

COMMENT: Cognitive benefits of speaking a foreign language

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If I ask you to give me one benefit of communicating in a second language, what would your answer be? Some might respond that it opens for you a lot of doors in the work field, others might say that it makes you more understanding of cultures by broadening your worldview, and others could answer that it benefits the mind. These are all true, but I’ll be focusing more on the cognition profit we get by speaking another tongue, as we tend to just know the perks, but not how nor what really happens to our brains when we begin the language learning process.


Regardless of the age you want to learn a new language, or if you are already in the process of doing so, you will cognitively benefit from what this linguistic wonder has to offer us. Some people might find themselves in a monolingual world for the rest of their lives, some might fluently communicate in one or more languages, and there are others who just have a hard time trying to learn the basic stuff. However, all of this ends up providing you almost the same thing: nourishing your brain. So please, do not be afraid of speaking those 5 or 10 sentences you put your heart and soul into learning, you are getting there, and your brain is thanking you as well.

Without anything else, sit and enjoy this journey I’m going to take you to about linguistics and cognition!


Cognition can be explained as understanding our experiences through mental processes such as perception, recall, and reasoning. To begin with, I will tell you about one of the most notorious cognitive skills that comes with learning a foreign language, which is concentration.

A study carried out in 2004 from researchers at the York University from Toronto, Canada, showed that children who were bilingual had better concentration abilities in problem-solving exercises; their attention span was longer and they ignored more interruptions than monolingual children, making distraction phenomena less prevalent and the retention of information easier.

This is why even if we are doing several activities at the same time, or even just one, our attention span is longer and we know which important concepts we have to focus on and which ones can be avoided or ‘saved for later’.

Photo: Google Images


One of the most well-known benefits multitasking has in our brain is that, as it keeps our brains working twice or thrice the normal rate and we are still paying attention, we are less prone to develop degenerative cognitive disorders, such as the Alzheimer’s Disease. According to Dr. Bialystok, “switching between languages is a stimulating activity — it is like carrying out brain exercises which builds up higher levels of what we call brain or cognitive reserve”. Having said this, multilingual people are better at making decisions, as they are more conscious of their surroundings and make faster, logical and deliberated judgments.

Photo: Google Images

Better at recalling information

Have you ever been in the situation where you know the word in English, but just can’t remember it, BUT you do know the word in Spanish? Or in French? Or in Wookiee? Well, several studies (1) (2) show that speakers of several languages tend to suffer this almost twice the normal than their monolingual peers, and one of the reasons is that we have a weaker vocabulary in the tongues we speak. However, the good news are that we are better at the retention and recalling of information both when learning another language and when acquiring another skill! A point for multilingual people, if you ask me.

Photo: Google Images

Our brain retains information through mnemonic techniques, which are an aid when learning something in a more efficient manner using associationmusic (lyrics); name mnemonics (creating acronyms to remember concepts); model mnemonics (using graphic organizers), among others. 

Broadening one’s worldview

Aside from filtering and recalling information easier and efficiently, learning a foreign language broadens one’s perception of the world. It makes a person more understanding of cultures, situations, and religions; it widens one’s mind socially.  As Flora Lewis once said, “Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” Likewise, by speaking another tongue, a person is also preserving their heritage through words and sounds.


Being able to speak more than one language widens someone’s perception of problems and differences, as well as the understanding of why those situations happened or why they are like that; it helps to eradicate xenophobic, racist, segregable and ignorant mind-settings.

By Isabel Zambrano for TYT

Isabel Zambrano is a 21-year-old English Language Teaching major student at UADY. She is currently an Editor intern for The Yucatan Times, Chinese student, and has a master in Foreign Languages at the Instituto Alemán.

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  1. Henry Stivenson says:

    Few people know about a pragmatic, efficient way to learn a new language. Those who do, advance in learning steadily and according to their schedule. While most people find themselves learning a new language as a necessity, many others do it because it is fun. It feels more sophisticated to know more than one language. It can be highly beneficial in your life over the long run. However, it is not an easy task to learn a new language no matter whether it is for fun or out of necessity. You’ve probably seen friends or acquaintances talk about wanting to learn a foreign language, then enthusiastically purchasing products, books, and maybe even enrolling into a course or program, only to ultimately see the reality of the fact that they have failed in their pursuit of learning another language. According to The Guardian, the ICM survey, which questioned 1,001 young people aged 14-24 from across the UK in June this year, paints a picture of a generation perhaps surprisingly open to the prospect of language learning, but often deeply lacking in the confidence of their ability to put their language studies into practice. Three in ten who chose not to study a language at GCSE or A-level say language learning is challenging, with almost half of all those questioned regarding grammar as difficult to learn and 40% seeing memorizing vocabulary as hard work. The research had indicated that A-level languages are perceived as being harder than other subjects and their content is demotivating. Sitting down with a language textbook and trying to teach yourself a new language is not only boring, it takes an inordinate amount of time. It can take months to capture the basics of a particular language. Fluency comes far later. Often, we don’t have the luxury of spending months learning a language. For example, those people who are migrating or taking up a job abroad.
    However as an individual learner or with a tutor, the student can cut down the time it takes him/her to master the basics of a new language. There are methods that can be used to reduce the time it takes.
    Main Essentials of Learning a New Language – They distinguish three main essentials associated with learning a new language; namely the vocabulary, basic sentence elements / patterns, and grammar rules. Vocabulary – the most basic step towards learning a new language is to learn its words. Familiarity with the words will lead you to form sentences. Sentence Patterns and Elements – this has to do with how you ask and answer questions. Making coherent sentences is the way to make someone understand what you are saying. The ability will also help you understand what others are saying and how you might respond. Grammar Rules – Each language has certain rules that need to be followed.
    There is a special type of media developed for the first and second component – a bilingual graded book. Bilingual graded books are also called bilingual graded readers. They offer a parallel translation that allows the user to learn a new language in less time. With the translation on the same page, learners can effortlessly learn what any unfamiliar words mean. They can quickly pick up new vocabulary and phrases that are used over and over in texts of bilingual graded books. When they read a graded bilingual reader, they can pick up chunks of language and vocabulary that they can use in conversation and other real-world applications. It also significantly reduces the amount of time it takes to become conversational in a new language. As you read a bilingual reader, your brain begins to remember words and phrases simply because you are exposed to them several times. You don’t even realize, until you have to recall what you’ve learned, that you have already learned the new words and phrases. Listen to the audio tracks that should always accompany a bilingual graded book to learn how words are said and to improve your overall ability to speak the new language. A good idea is to use the free VLC media player to control the playing speed. You can control the playing speed by decreasing or increasing the speed value on the button of the VLC media player’s interface.
    Decide what is better for you a paper book or an e-book. Many of the e-readers by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo have dictionaries pre-loaded on their devices, with options to download additional ones, for free. If you do not have an e-reader, you do not have to buy one, because you can download it as a free app to your phone and use it right away. Writing your own notes, searching or making highlights is ridiculously simple with an e-reader or e-reading app. Anything you do with an e-book is also synced to the cloud, ensuring any change will follow you, no matter what device you are on.
    At first search on Google for “bilingual graded books” or “bilingual graded books for beginners”. Choose and buy a book on a suitable topic, for example general, business, medical, culinary, dialogues, students, cooking, family, tourists, detective, short story or whatever you like. Read it for about twenty minutes a day. If you do it every day, you will be surprised how much you can learn in a month’s time. Try to use the target language after you have learned for a month. If you don’t have an opportunity to talk to native speakers at home or at work/study, use your target language in small talk on Skype or another online chat. Search on Google for “free online clean chat rooms” and pick up the one that suits your interests. Two or three minutes of small talk two or three times a week or more often will give you some motivation and encourage you to learn new questions and answers for new dialogues. Compile a list of questions and answers for your dialogues in a target language or find them on Google with keywords “Bilingual graded books dialogues” and try using them.
    Don’t be afraid of making errors. They are your steps to success. You will spot and correct them sooner or later anyway. They will not be for the rest of your life. Better not to talk at all than to talk incorrectly? Wrong! Start talking as much as you can! Your language will improve every time you talk. A learner who knows only a hundred words and isn’t shy of talking will progress more quickly than the one who knows a thousand words but remains silent because he or she is afraid of saying something wrong.
    It can usually take you from one to three months to finish a bilingual graded reader at beginner level (A1) and elementary level (A2). The amount of time depends on your previous experience with learning foreign languages and on your personal abilities. At this point you should be able to ask and answer simple questions with the following questioning words: What? Who? Where? When? Which? How many/much? As you improve and become more confident in your ability to use the new language, you can move on to the next reader level and continue your language-learning journey. After using a bilingual graded book for a week or two you are ready to study grammar rules, so buy a good grammar book. A grammar book will satisfy your curiosity about grammar rules awakened by the bilingual graded book. Read the grammar book to find out how you can use your target language more precisely. Follow this order – first read a reading book, then use a grammar book and exercises to make your learning experience uninterrupted.
    Language text with a parallel translation has helped many to uncover their potential for learning multiple languages. Whether you are learning a language as a hobby or for a necessary purpose, you will find such books are supportive. Using them is by far more pragmatic, efficient way to learn a new language than a “learn a language in two weeks” program. However you should frequently use the target language by using bilingual graded books with audio tracks, grammar books, chats, internet pages and even songs to maintain your motivation and progress. Remember – twenty minutes a day does the magic!

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