This Is What Happens To Your Brain When You Learn A New Language

If it felt like learning a new language came easily in grade school but became a struggle as you entered Spanish 101 in high school, you're not alone. Learning a new language can be challenging, as there are countless grammatical differences from one language to another. While the level of difficulty may vary by age, learning a language, no matter how old you are, has some incredible long-lasting benefits (via Ertheo).

While traditionally thought to be confined solely to the left side of the brain, research shows that comprehensive language learning incorporates both the left and right hemispheres (via Unbabel). In particular, the areas of the brain most engaged during language learning are the Wernicke's area and the Broca's area. Both located in the left hemisphere, Wernicke's area enables language comprehension, while the job of the Broca's area is centered around articulation.

Our brains are malleable. When learning a new language, our brain goes to work, forging new neural pathways that begin to stimulate alternate parts of the brain (via Discover). As our brain undergoes these changes, what kinds of outcomes can we expect as a result?'

Language learning has no shortage of cognitive benefits

A 2020 scientific analysis published in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review revealed that fluent speakers of a second language experience a delay in the emergence of Alzheimer's symptoms by roughly 5 years. While it wasn't proven that knowing a second language reduces rates of Alzheimer's disease altogether, co-author of the study John Grundy further explained the significance of the findings. "Bilinguals and monolinguals eventually show the same number of Alzheimer's disease cases, but bilinguals tend to be able to stave off those symptoms for longer," Grundy told Iowa State University.

Acquiring a second language may also improve our emotional well-being. A 2017 study published in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences showed that out of over 200 participants, bilingual individuals had a greater sense of empathy than those who only spoke one language.

Additionally, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General found that speaking a second language can actually alter our interpretation of time passing. "By learning a new language, you suddenly become attuned to perceptual dimensions that you weren't aware of before," study co-author Panos Athanasopoulos told ScienceDaily. "It also shows that bilinguals are more flexible thinkers, and there is evidence to suggest that mentally going back and forth between different languages on a daily basis confers advantages on the ability to learn and multi-task, and even long term benefits for mental well-being."