143. Critical Thinking: Learning Languages & The Benefits of A Multilingual Brain

07 important lessons from this video:

00:00:07 If you speak 2 or more languages, you belong to the world’s bilingual and multilingual majority. This means that your brain will actually look and work differently than monoligualists.

00:00:40 Language ability is typically measured actively through speaking and writing, and passively through listening and reading. Balanced bi- and multilinguals have near equal active and passive abilities across languages, however the majority of them aren’t 50/50 balanced, and are stronger in some aspects of a language than others.

00:01:02 There are three general types of linguists according to how they learn a language:

  1. Compound bilinguals (very young children of immigrants) grow up learning two different languages simultaneously.
  2. Coordinate bilinguals (young to adolescent adults) speak their native language at home while learning and using their 2nd language at school.
  3. Subordinate bilinguals (grown adult bilingual immigrants) learn a secondary language by filtering it through their native language

00:01:49 Regardless of your above ‘language learner profile,’ anyone can become fluent in any language, and regardless of accent or pronunciation.

00:02:07 While not a perfect split, the human brain’s more dominant left hemisphere is mostly responsible for analytical and logical processes, while the less dominant right hemisphere is mostly responsible for emotional and social processes.

The critical period hypothesis argues that since language learning involves both types of left- and right-brain processes, the ability to acquire a language is biologically linked to age. Meaning children learn languages more easily simply because their brains are more malleable and capable of utilizing both brain hemispheres to acquire the language, while adult language learners are limited to just one hemisphere, typically the left hemisphere responsible for analytical and logical processes. This means that children have a more holistic understanding of a language: the words as well as their social and emotional implications, while adults learning the language through their more logical and analytical brain hemisphere tend to have more difficulty in understanding the emotional context of the new language, since they are translating the new language through their native language.

00:03:11 Regardless of your way of acquiring new languages, being multilingual gives your brain several incredible advantages:

  • A higher density of the grey matter in your brain – which is responsible for connecting your brain’s neurons and synapses
  • Greater activation in other regions of your brain as you learn other languages.
  • A delay in the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia by up to a half a decade.

00:03:45 Prior to the 1960s, bilingualism was viewed as a mental handicap, since children were required to spend “wasted energy” learning two languages at the same time, a view based largely on flawed studies. But while tests have proven that Q&A reaction time may be slightly decreased with bilingual children, those tests also showed elevated action in the child’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain largly responsible for problem solving and multi-tasking and concentration.

When it comes to your brain, a little exercise can go a long way.