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COMMENT: Cognitive benefits of speaking a foreign language

by Yucatan Times
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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.

IMAGE: experteer.com

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.

Photo: Carbon-comic.com

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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