It’s official – bilingual speakers have bigger brains! If you’ve always had a sneaking suspicion your brain might just a little larger than the norm, here is the confirmation your giant brain has been craving.
Two Swedish scientists have found that learning a foreign language can actually increase the size of your brain, which is fantastic news for all you top heavy bilingual job seekers out there. As part of an ongoing study into the cognitive benefits of language learning, brain scans were used to monitor what happens when someone learns a second language. The study found that foreign language learning has a visible effect on the brain.
The Swedish researchers studied a group of young military recruits who had learned to speak Arabic, Russian or Dari intensively. Meanwhile, a group of medical students were set up as a control group. They studied intensively too, but not at languages. The MRI scans found that specific parts of the brain used by the language students had actually developed in size, while the brains of the control group remained the same.
The areas of the brain that grew were linked to the ease with which the students found the languages they were learning. The brain development actually varied according to performance. Those whose brains grew in the hippocampus and areas of the cerebral cortex had better language skills. In those with less developed language skills, it was the cerebral cortex which developed more.
The best way to learn a language – Immersion vs. the rules of language
Traditionally, there are two ways to learn a language, either immersion, which is how we learn our native language, or by studying the underlying rules. In a recent study into the most effective way to learn a new language, it was found that while all the participants did learn, it was the immersed learners whose brain processes worked most like native speakers. Even up to six months later, the students who had been immersed in the language were performing well in tests. Their brain processes also became even more ‘native-like’ over time.
In a follow-up study, it was found the students learning a language through immersion had a particular talent for picking up the sequences and patterns of the language. This improved their grammar usage and showed that like children, this is the best way for adults to learn.
Learning a second language is always beneficial
However we learn a new language, research has shown that bilingual job seekers have better memories, are more cognitively creative and are more mentally flexible than their monolingual counterparts.
Perhaps more encouraging still is the fact that these benefits are the same whether the second language is learned as a child or an adult. Millions of people acquire their second languages in later life, through university, work, marriage or migration, but the advantages are the same. So, you’re never too old to learn a new language!
Apply for bilingual jobs
Bilingual job seekers are in high demand across a wide range of industry sectors. This leads to increased rates of pay when compared to equivalent job roles for monolinguals. Clearly it’s not only your brain that will benefit from learning a second language, your bank balance could get a boost too!