A growing body of research indicates that people who learn to speak a foreign language throughout their lives have essentially trained their brains to be stronger muscles, making them smarter, more creative and more responsive to their own feelings and emotions.
But, after studying both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese for a few years each, I think there is something deeper to speaking more than one language than meets the eye or brain. It’s something in the heart and soul.
When we become able to more easily connect with others in their native language, we can experience their world using so many different perspectives that enrich us. It not only makes us better world citizens, but it makes us more sensitive and tolerant, as well.
A study led by neuropsychologists at the University of California, was conducted on 44 elderly bilingual people. It suggested that using more than one language slowed the onset of many illnesses, like Alzheimer’s and dementia (dementia patients who are bilingual experience onset on average four-and-a-half years later in life. See http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2013/11/14/244813470/new-study-shows-brain-benefits-of-bilingualism).
Learning more than one language, and trying to using it throughout your life, is just like working out any other muscle in the body. The more you train it, the easier it is to flex and use on a daily basis — even in your golden years. Knowing more than one language keeps your brain healthy, complex and actively engaged.
If you can think in two languages, you can think outside of the box, meaning that people even-close-to-be bilingual can fluidly respond to challenging tasks and come up with more creative problem-solving techniques than those who only use one language.
Dr. Fraser Lauchlan, the lead author of the study, said in a press release: “Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively. We also assessed the children’s vocabulary, not so much for their knowledge of words as their understanding of them. Again, there was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils”.
By learning a foreign language from an early age, children are more equipped to understand various ideas and concepts rather than a single, streamlined thought process.
Not only does it better connect us to the world and people around us, but multiple languages help us connect to ourselves. By being able to understand who we are better, we ultimately become better lovers, in the sense that speaking foreign languages helps us understand simple thoughts about love, life and happiness in all of their complex variations, and it helps us relay those feelings to our loved ones.
Learning a foreign language like Italian, then, leads to even more benefits for one’s spirit, soul and life’s approach, but this deserves a whole separate chapter. Stay tuned!