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Learn a language for your mental health

5 min read
12 May 2020
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When thinking about healthy living many people instantly think to eat healthier, exercise more and lose weight. But what about our mental health?

Research has shown that learning a new language can have huge benefits for your mental health. Not only can it make your brain sharper, but it can also help you to improve your confidence and connect with others.



Fitness for your brain

Cognitive neuroscientist Ellen Bialystok found that bilingual patients with Alzheimer’s disease reported showing the first symptoms of the illness five years later than the average for monolinguals. They could also function at a higher level than other patients whose brains showed the same level of deterioration. Being able to speak a second language had kept them healthy for longer.

Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t actually easier for children to learn a new language. Cognitive psychologist Dr. Christos Pliatsikas found that even in so-called “late” bilinguals who gained their skills in adulthood had stronger, more-efficient brain structures than monolingual peers. Immersion is key, he says: “bilingualism ‘reshapes’ the brain, but […] bilingual immersion is a crucial factor in the process.”

Another study by Kara Morgan-Short and Michael Ullman shows that the brain actually continues to build on the positive effects of learning a language even after immersion. Even in adulthood, your brain is ready and willing to absorb a new language – so you can reap the benefits of bilingualism at any point in your life.


Boost your self-worth

Learning a new skill can boost your self-confidence and self-esteem. When you’re learning a new language, making mistakes is necessary in order to progress. Classes provide a safe environment in which to make those mistakes and learn from them, which can help you to feel less worried about getting everything right in other situations.

Going to regular classes at the same time each week also gives you a clear plan to follow, helping you to build a sense of purpose and forge relationships with other people.



Open up the world

Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety can make your world feel small – and learning a new language can help to open that up. Going to class gives you a reason to get out of the house and meet new people. Language conversation exercises provide a simple and structured way to connect with others that doesn’t need to be intimidating. You don’t need to become best friends instantly in order to help each other learn.

Learning a language abroad is a great way to open up your world even more. You can take the opportunity to put your phone away and spend the time immersing yourself in another culture, exploring different sights and making connections with people from all over the world.


A different way of talking

Talking can be a very useful tool for our mental health, but it can often be difficult to find the words to express painful feelings.

Some bilinguals actually find it easier to speak about difficult subjects in their second language. Often, a second language feels less intimately connected to your heart and mind, and that feeling of distance can help you to get to the tricky issues you want to address. You never know, you might just find that there are words in another language that say what you never could in your native language.


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