How language changes our brain?
February 14, 2020 | Farah Jassawalla

How language changes our brain?

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It might be a surprise to many but, learning a new language changes the structure of your brain. It makes the network of your brain more connected and hence, more efficient, whereby the change is not age-bound but can be experienced at any age. Thus, it can be safely stated that learning a new language makes you smarter!

As vital as food and water are for the body, language and communication is for the brain. Communication is a mode of exchanging information where language plays a vital role and, thus, impacts our daily lives.

Language in the brain

There is a center for language in your brain. According to research, there are two primary ‘language centers’ located on the left side of the brain. These two are:

1. Broca's area: has the task of directing the processes that lead to speech utterance. Hence, the language center is used in the expressive parts of written as well as a spoken language, for example, in the production of sentences.

2. Wernicke's area: role is to "decode" speech. It comprehends the sentences and makes you understand the meaning of them.

If an individual experiences some sort of brain injury that damages either one of these two language centers of the brain, it would impair their ability to comprehend or speak what is being said, depending on what part is damaged.

Research also proves that learning a higher number of languages impacts the brain in a manner that not only boosts the size of it but also boosts certain brain activities. A study found that students who are well committed to learning new languages experience growth in a brain region – Hippocampus – that is associated with learning. Thus, learning new languages improves your learning abilities.

Effects of bilingualism

To form a link between brain health and bilingualism or multilingualism, researchers have been doing their studies for a long time. Multiple studies have been conducted which reveal that bilingualism protects the brain against brain diseases, including Alzheimer's disease and some other forms of dementia.

Research conducted shows that people who have learned a second language – and learned it well – have approximately 5 more years of life than people who only know one language. The research stated ‘[These findings] suggest that bilingualism might have a stronger influence on dementia than any currently available drugs.’

Bilingual individuals are also very good at extracting relevant information while ignoring the information that is not required for a certain task. These individuals are also very good at processing information at a faster pace than other individuals.

How languages change our perception

Do you think that switching between languages alters your experience of the world you live in or the way you see it?

A journalist once wrote in The New York Times with the title “The Language Gap”:

"Language is the way people think as well as the way they talk, the summation of a point of view. Its use reveals unwitting attitudes. People who use more than one language frequently find themselves having somewhat different patterns of thought and reaction as they shift."

Researchers today have proven that what she said is absolutely correct. The language that we use in our everyday lives is not only impacting the way we express or think about ourselves but, it also impacts the way we perceive the world and the way we interact with individuals.

The power of our mind resides in the language we speak and the one we know. All our decision-making processes, the way we talk, the way we comprehend speech, and the way we perceive the surrounding atmosphere in which we live, are influenced by the language we use. Thus, when we learn a new language, our brain is exposed to more vast fields to explore and learn from. Therefore, language is an extremely vital and powerful tool for our minds.

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Farah Jassawalla

Farah Jassawalla is a graduate of the Lahore School of Economics. She is also a writer, and healthcare enthusiast, having closely observed case studies while working with Lahore's thriving general physicians at their clinics.