Although learning a second language is easier when we are young, with a bit of self-discipline and motivation we can master a new language in adulthood which, as research has shown, has a positive impact on our brain functions. A recent study conducted at the Northwestern University has shown that speaking two languages exercises the brain and bilingual individuals can more easily perform challenging tasks.
Results from language comprehension tests showed that bilingual volunteers who took part in the study were more adept at filtering out irrelevant sounds which researchers say reflects strong mental ability. During the testing the volunteers would hear a particular word and were then shown an image of that word and also of a similar sounding word. For example, they would hear the word cloud and would then be presented with a picture of a cloud and a clown, a similar sounding word.
Bilingual participants scored much better as researchers believe their brains are already conditioned to control two languages, meaning they are able to block out irrelevant words more easily. This ability can be extremely useful as it can help individuals filter out distracting noise in busy classrooms and also whilst driving a car as Dr. Viorica Marian, one of the researchers, explains: “Inhibitory control is a hallmark of cognition. Whether we’re driving or performing surgery, it’s important to focus on what really matters and ignore what doesn’t”.
The best thing about the findings is that even those who are not completely fluent in a second language can reap the rewards of being bilingual. Even a working knowledge of a second language can have a positive impact on our brain and cognition, whilst the actual learning process can help stave off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Even though it can be more difficult to learn a second language as an adult, there are plenty of opportunities to listen to or read a foreign language thanks to the digital age in which we live in. There are many professional language school catering for adults, online language courses, opportunities to visit foreign news portals and communicate via email or Skype with friends and native speakers from abroad. The positive effects of the learning process can be seen in a relatively short period of time as Dr Marian states: “Also, it doesn’t take a lifetime for the brain to reap the benefits of bilingualism. The benefits can be seen even after just one semester of studying”.