5 things that happen to your brain when you learn a new language
Never has the bar to entry been so low and the recognized benefits so high.
- Learning a new language has been shown to sharpen your cognitive abilities while helping stave off dementia as you age.
- A University of Chicago study found that businesspeople make better decisions when weighing problems in a non-native tongue.
- Juggling multiple languages lets bilingual speakers switch between tasks with less stress and more control than monolinguists.
In an increasingly globalized world, some believe you only need to speak English in order to engage in international business. As language expert David Crystal explains in his book, How Language Works, this is a false assumption. In Europe, for example, Crystal points out speaking multiple languages is "seen as a criterion of responsible international citizenship."
Crystal writes that multilingualism prepares children to cope with a constantly changing society. Of course, learning a new language isn't confined to the young: there are myriad benefits at every age. We list five important brain-boosting features of learning a foreign language below.
From increased tolerance and employment opportunities to a wide range of memory and problem-solving skills, foreign languages teach us about others as well as ourselves. When you speak in a new language you gain perspective on the reality you've constructed around your original tongue. Not only do you speak differently, you learn how to think differently.
Whether doing it for others or yourself, the many benefits of multilingualism are available through a variety of online courses and apps like Rype or Babbel. Never has the bar to entry been so low and the recognized benefits so high.
1. A boon for cognition
Your muscles become weak when you stop training them. They even atrophy over time. The human brain works in much the same manner. When you stop learning, neural connections are weakened. This results in forgetfulness and potentially dementia.
One of the best means for staving off dementia is learning a new language. As a 2018 review, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, puts it, "One of the non-pharmacological approaches, which may enhance cognitive abilities and protect against the decline in healthy older population, seems to be the learning of a foreign language."
You can grow new neuronal connections at any age provided you keep learning. Foreign languages force you to think differently. A language lesson is like a session in the brain gym. The most effective way to not lose your memory is to keep using it—a necessity when learning a language. Besides memory enhancement, languages improve overall cognitive functioning, raise self-esteem, and increase opportunities for socializing, all necessary skills in aging populations.
2. Improve your decision-making skills
A unique study at the University of Chicago found that businesspeople make better decisions when weighing problems in a non-native tongue. UChicago psychologist Boaz Keysar argues that foreign languages force you to contemplate decisions instead of relying on intuition, which is riddled with biases. As people tend to be loss-averse, they sometimes overlook favorable opportunities. By considering a business opportunity presented in a foreign language, they have to spend more time thinking through all angles of every deal. This reduces the emotional pull of a risky endeavor while revealing potential avenues that have not been considered. This skill makes you a better critical thinker in every language you speak.
3. Creativity unleashed!
An extensive review of the benefits of multilingualism indicate a strong connection between creative flexibility, fluency, and originality. How often have you heard a non-native English speaker make a unique observation with a combination of words you've never heard but that make complete sense? New languages cause you to picture landscapes of possibilities. Choosing the proper term for a feeling or thought is itself an act of creation. During the first few years of life we do this at a rapid pace. As you age, you become more deliberate in your word choice. New languages free you from the conventions of habit. Expressing yourself in a new language is a creative act, and that mindset translates into other realms of life.
4. Increased attention
We live in an attention economy and many people suffer from a deficit. When you hear a word or phrase being spoken, your brain actually guesses at the completed statement. We're constantly guessing reality all the time. Interestingly, bilingual speakers don't turn off one language when listening to another. They're anticipating words from multiple languages all the time, according to an article published in the journal, Cerebrum. As the authors write,
"To maintain the relative balance between two languages, the bilingual brain relies on executive functions, a regulatory system of general cognitive abilities that includes processes such as attention and inhibition."
Because bilingual speakers must navigate two (or more) languages during every conversation, their brain is primed for attention. This results in greater executive control of their cognitive functions, which is a great advantage in the current attention economy.
5. Masters of multitasking
Research from Penn State found bilingual speakers have enhanced cognitive flexibility, which facilitates new learning. This follows a study at the same university that discovered juggling multiple languages affords the speaker greater cognitive control, allowing the speaker to code-switch with ease. This ability to juggle languages lets them switch between tasks with less stress and more control than monolinguists. Instead of bogging the bilingual speaker down when searching for the right language, speaking in multiple tongues actually speeds up their ability to jump from mental task to mental task.
Interested in learning a new language?
The most effective way of learning a new language is putting it into action. Babbel is an online language pioneer that immerses you in real-life dialogues from day one. Courses are based on your native language and interests. Babbel's language experts devise a series of cognitive techniques that helps the information stick. Best yet, the app's speech recognition offers instant feedback. You'll be conversing quickly while retaining the words and phrases you learn. Learn more here.
Some people simply learn better with an actual human teacher. That's where Rype comes in. You can learn any of this services' 10 languages in one-on-one lessons with expert teachers via Skype. The average retention of Rype learners is 90 percent—well above most apps or classrooms. Flexible scheduling with 24/7 availability means you learn at your convenience with a real human being. That feedback is irreplaceable. There is a 7-day free trial—learn more here.
"Nothing but naked people: fat ones, thin ones, old, young…"
"The Yellow Sands", 1888, John Reinhard Weguelin; source: Wikimedia Commons<h3>Naked revolution</h3><p>Yet long before anyone knew about beach fashion, naturism was trendy. Bathing naked in the sea was going on in England as early as 1840. However, during the reign of Queen Victoria, this pleasure was outlawed. But it popped up again among the conservative Germans. In 1898, the first Naturist Club was founded in Essen and in 1900 the Wandering Birds group (<em>Wandervögel</em>) was scouring the country for uninhabited places and naked sunbathing. In the same year, Heinrich Pudor wrote <em>The C</em><em>ult of </em><em>the </em><em>Nud</em><em>e</em>, winning the hearts of contemporary supporters of naturism.</p><p>In the 1920s, on the back of this, members of the Movement for Natural Healing (<em>Naturheilbewegung</em>) organized naked sunbathing for the improvement of health. Persuaded by Pudor's theory of the healing properties of the sun and wind, which could be absorbed through the skin, they launched the naked revolution.</p><p>Pudor's book became the naturists' manifesto and soon after, not far from Hamburg, the Free Body Culture (<em>Freikörperkultur</em>, or FKK) movement was founded. This spread through other German centres and brought together thousands of people. The FKK still operates under the same name today.</p><p>The cult of the naked body even wrote itself into the ideology of fascist Germany, which advocated a pure, Aryan race. But in 1933, Hermann Göring issued an order that defined nudity as "the greatest threat to the German soul" and, with that, criminalized naturist organizations. But this wasn't the end of the movement. The naturists went underground, continuing their activities under the guise of improving physical fitness.</p><p>In 1936, the idea was even floated of having a naturist display to open the Berlin Olympic Games. It was quickly dropped. Despite this, in 1939 the naturists managed to organize their own Games in the Swiss village of Thielle.</p>
The microbes that eventually produced the planet's oxygen had to breathe something, after all.
- We owe the Earth's oxygen to ancient microbes that photosynthesized and released it into the world's oceans.
- A long-standing question has been "before oxygen, what did they breathe?"
- The discovery of microbes living in a hostile early-Earth-like environment may provide the answer.
Unassuming but remarkable microbial mats<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ0NzE3Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjk0MzE4Nn0.FhrDr5RTfRIBdf5uhnmzSPNYz-CwNiPbVYgam5eNaoY/img.jpg?width=980" id="d5e1c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2e5e1b019d0bb1987ee730f91b550cc" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Razzu Engen/Flickr<p> Photosynthesis chiefly requires sunlight, water, and CO<sup>2</sup>. The CO<sup>2</sup> gets broken down into carbon and oxygen — the plant uses some of this oxygen and releases the rest. Without CO<sup>2</sup>'s oxygen molecules, though, how did this work? </p><p> There are known microbial mats today that live in oxygen-free environments, but they're not thought to be sufficiently like their ancestors to explain ancient photosynthesis in an oxygen-free environment. </p><p> There have been a few oxygen stand-ins proposed. Photosynthesis can work with iron molecules, but fossil-record evidence doesn't support that idea. Hydrogen and sulphur have also been proposed, though evidence for them is also lacking. </p><p> The spotlight began to shift to arsenic in the first decade of the millennium when arsenic-breathing microbial mats were discovered in two hypersaline California lakes, <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/308/5726/1305.abstract" target="_blank">Searles Lake</a> and <a href="https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/mono-lake-bacteria-build-their-dna-using-arsenic-and-no-this-isnt-about-aliens" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mono Lake</a>. In 2014, Visscher and colleagues <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/ngeo2276" target="_blank">unearthed indications</a> of arsenic-based photosynthesis, or ""arsenotrophic," microbial mats deep in the fossil record of the Tumbiana Formation of Western Australia. </p><p> Still, given the ever-shifting geology of the planets, the fractured ancient fossil record makes definitive study of ancient arsenotrophic photosynthesis difficult. The fossil record can't identify the role of the arsenic it reveals: was it involved in photosynthesis or just a toxic chemical that happened to be there? </p><p>Then, last year, arsenic-breathing microorganisms <a href="https://www.washington.edu/news/2019/05/01/arsenic-breathing-life-discovered-in-the-tropical-pacific-ocean/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were discovered</a> in the Pacific Ocean. A sulphur bacterium, <em>Ectothiorhodospira sp.</em> was also recently found to be metablozing arsenic into <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenite" target="_blank">arsenite</a> in <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5064118/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Big Soda Lake</a> in Nevada. </p>
An ancient Earth environment, today<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ0NzIxMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTQwOTYyN30.v96ZRXpIAf4yzDwcvXzVV3Fa4qULtUMxanXguPHD2wI/img.jpg?width=980" id="9eec4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a23585c057ee50ed500b96125e4a6b05" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
a Map of Northern Chile; b Detail of frame showing Laguna La Brava in the southern Atacama; c The channel showing the mats in purple; d Hand sample, cross-section; e Microscopic image of bacteria.
Credit: Visscher, et al./communications earth & environment<p>The study reports on Visscher's discovery of a living microbial mat thriving in an arsenic environment in Laguna La Brava in the Atacama Desert in Chile. "We started working in Chile," Visscher tells <a href="https://today.uconn.edu/2020/09/without-oxygen-earths-early-microbes-relied-arsenic-sustain-life/" target="_blank"><em>UConn Today</em></a>, "where I found a blood-red river. The red sediments are made up by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anoxygenic_photosynthesis" target="_blank">anoxogenic</a> photosynthetic bacteria. The water is very high in arsenic as well. The water that flows over the mats contains hydrogen sulfide that is volcanic in origin and it flows very rapidly over these mats. There is absolutely no oxygen."</p><p>The mats have not previously been studied, and the conditions in which they live are tantalizingly similar to those of early Earth. It's a high-altitude, permanently oxygen-free state with extreme temperature swings and lots of UV exposure. </p><p>The mats that somewhat resemble Nevada's purple <em>Ectothiorhodospira sp.</em> are going about their business of making carbonate deposits, forming new stromatolites. Most excitingly, those deposits contain evidence that the mats are metabolizing arsenic. The rushing waters surrounding the mats are also rich in hydrogen sulphide and arsenic.</p><p>Says Visscher, "I have been working with microbial mats for about 35 years or so. This is the only system on Earth where I could find a microbial mat that worked absolutely in the absence of oxygen."</p><p>Not that Earth is the only place where this could happen. Visscher notes that the equipment they used for studying the Laguna La Brava mats is not unlike the system aboard the Mars Perseverance Rover. He says, "In looking for evidence of life on Mars, they will be looking at iron, and probably they should be looking at arsenic also."</p>
Techshot's 3D BioFabrication Facility successfully printed human heart tissue aboard the International Space Station.
All that's fit to bioprint<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ0MTc4OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjUyMTkxN30.c02tUlYJLxdekTGR5ExOagL2Sh-5rmWN6pYkqger920/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C210%2C0%2C2&height=700" id="c20c0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a6a286e57a8ba31f1fd815c03bfd080d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Dr. Eugene Boland, Techshot's chief scientist, presents the 3D BioFabrication Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida
A heart from your new BFF<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1fa24e6ada521bcdac46de275c37f2da"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/p_hauPqouH8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>In partnership with <a href="https://www.nscrypt.com/about-us/" target="_blank">nScrypt</a>, Techshot developed the BFF to manufacture human tissue in space. In July 2019, they launched the bioprinter aboard the SpaceX CRS-18 cargo mission to be delivered to the International Space Station. There, it was loaded up with nerve, muscle, and vascular bioinks. As the BFF pinned the cells together in a culturing cassette, generating layers several times thinner than a human hair, the microgravity environment ensured the low-viscosity structure kept together. That's courtesy of the same surface tension property that allows for those <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_qPWZbxFl8" target="_blank">moving water spheres astronauts love to play with</a>.</p><p>"So, now you can have a vascular cell where you want a blood vessel to be, the nerve cell where you want the nerve to pass through, and muscle cells where you need a muscle bundle to be," Boland said. "All of those will stay where you put them in three-dimensions and then grow and mature where you want them."</p><p>A non-cellular ink was added to the mix to provide a bit of framework and prevent cells from sliding around during the printing process. But because Earth's gravity had less pull, this framework didn't need to be as ridged as terrestrial scaffolding. This non-cellular ink was water-soluble, meaning it could be washed away after the printing was complete. The end result, a more natural fabrication of human tissue.</p><p>Once 25 percent of the cells needed for the mature tissue were in place, the cell-culturing cassette was moved to another payload, the Advanced Space Experiment Processor (ADSEP). There, the cells lived and grew as they would naturally. Fully differentiated cells signaled to the adult stems cells that they should be heart cells. The stem cells grew and multiplied, supported by the nutrients provided in the ink. A few weeks later and the cassette was home to human heart tissue.</p><p>This January, <a href="https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/success-3d-bioprinter-in-space-prints-with-human-heart-cells-300982759.html" target="_blank">Techshot announced</a> the BFF had cultured successful test prints aboard the ISS. These heart prints measured 30 mm long by 20 mm wide by 12.6mm high. In a follow-up experiment, the BFF also manufactured <a href="https://techshot.com/techshot-successfully-completes-knee-cartilage-test-prints-in-space/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">test prints of a partial human knee meniscus</a>, the soft cartilage that acts as a shock absorber between your shinbone and thighbone.</p>
The future of medicine is in space?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ0MTc5MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjQwODUxOH0.VAg1FIZkGz_IOCaGUAHxylX1h44qA2-tk-9odXPoLT0/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C118%2C0%2C94&height=700" id="2176b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="932d3caca0897797883d941a6255885e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
NASA Astronaut Jessica Meir prepares Techshot's cell-culturing cassettes for their return trip to Earth.
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