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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.
Are there innate differences between female and male brains?
People have searched for sex differences in human brains since at least the 19th century, when scientist Samuel George Morton poured seeds and lead shot into human skulls to measure their volumes.
An experiment in Botswana suggests a non-lethal deterrent for predatory lions.
- Lions help maintain balance in their ecosystems, but they kill cattle.
- The big cats are ambush predators who depend on the element of surprise.
- In an experiment, eyes painted on cow backsides appear to deter lions from attacking.
Sneak attackers<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU1NDUzMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjUwMjE0NH0.051c9pzJ5dg4Ayj6bw4MZVmYCD37YzO6mVJK6sXlbI8/img.jpg?width=980" id="c4422" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98fd6f10736c6bc91199f716d62e55fa" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Bobby-Jo Photography/The Conversation<p>Lions are ambush predators who sneak up on their quarry. <a href="https://en.wikipedia-on-ipfs.org/wiki/Ambush_predator.html" target="_blank">Ambush predators</a> are common in nature, on land and sea and in the air. They come in all sizes, from the praying mantis to the orca, and what they have in common is a sit (or swim)-wait-pounce strategy.</p><p>The element of surprise is a critical part of an ambush predator's method, and <a href="https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Leopard-and-Lion-predation-upon-Chacma-Baboons-in-Busse/4fd0d1d6409616c85948c2e7d86182fa967655bc" target="_blank">previous research</a> on lion and leopard behavior in Africa's Okavango Delta suggested that an attack may be called off when an ambush predator believes it's lost the element of surprise. </p><p>Conservation biologist <a href="https://research.unsw.edu.au/people/dr-neil-jordan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Neil Jordan</a> of UNSW's Centre for Ecosystem Science has seen this in action. He tells <a href="https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/eye-opening-conservation-strategy-could-save-african-lions" target="_blank"><em>UNSW Newsroom</em></a> about how he got the idea for i-cows as he was watching a lion about to attack an impala near a village in Botswana where he was staying. "Lions are ambush hunters, so they creep up on their prey, get close and jump on them unseen. But in this case, the impala noticed the lion. And when the lion realized it had been spotted, it gave up on the hunt."</p><p>There's also support for this deterrent effect in nature, where having markings that <a href="https://sibleynaturecenter.org/photo-essays/eyespots" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">look like eyes</a> staring back at a predator appears to provide a distinct evolutionary survival advantage for a range of species, including butterflies, moths, reptiles, fish, and birds.</p><p>No mammals, however, have eyespots, and the i-cow team believes this is the first time that humans have investigated the effect of adding eye markings to them.</p>
Eyes, crosses, and bare backsides<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU1NDUzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMTMxMDczNH0.lAsbSZuwUC2SPYKnF-IyEMIC1Tw730ACJl9I3txv_M4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d9221" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="12aee1df264836555c20c259fbfefeb8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Prepping a cow
Image source: Bobby-Jo Photography/The Conversation<p>For the i-cows research, Jordan and his colleagues painted markings on cattle from 14 herds. 683 cows had eyes painted on their rumps, a cross was painted on the posteriors of 543 cows to learn if a natural eye shape was required to deter predators, and 835 cows were left unpainted. </p><p>Most lion attacks occur during that day — cattle are more likely to be securely penned at night — so the test cattle were painted in the morning and released to forage as usual. There were 49 painting sessions with each lasting for 24 days.</p><p>While 15 of the unpainted cows were ultimately taken by lions, not a single eye-painted cow was killed. Unexpectedly, a painted cross seemed to help a bit, if not as much as an eye painting — only 4 cross-painted cattle were attacked.</p>
A few caveats<p>The researchers point out a couple of potential issues with their research.</p><p>First, the presence of completely unmarked cows in their experiments may have provided a more obvious target for lions in that they had no potentially off-putting, or even confusing in the case of the crosses, markings.</p><p>Second, animals learn. It may be that the area's lions would eventually habituate to or figure out the humans' subterfuge. The researchers note in an article for <a href="https://theconversation.com/lions-are-less-likely-to-attack-cattle-with-eyes-painted-on-their-backsides-142488" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a> noting that this <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.190826" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">tends to be a problem</a> with non-lethal anti-predator remedies in general.</p>
The virus is unlike anything many people have ever experienced.
- The public Facebook group, Survivor Corps, is a place where long haulers and survivors congregate.
- Months after recovering from COVID-19, some are suffering from joint pain, hair loss, and cognitive issues.
- These cautionary tales are important in a county where many remain skeptical over the dangers of this virus.
Coronavirus - The Latest: The Covid-19 'long-haulers'<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="73d1813a9b48841241c01857476e48b4"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/kUyKpu-djdc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>I've been out of the hospital</strong> from COVID-19 for four weeks now and started having severe pain in my big toe, almost like I stepped on a piece of glass or have a severely ingrown toenail—I don't and there's no cut or intrusion. Now my toe is really swollen and red. It hurts to walk or put any pressure on it. Is this what's called COVID toe, and what's the protocol?</p><p><strong>I am on 18 days in bed</strong> with COVID. Luckily, I've been able to manage this horrible beast from home (so far). I actually thought I was feeling better yesterday, and then today I'm going in another direction. I'm having terrible pain when I breathe (right side), and I'm exhausted. I just finished Augmentin, and a week prior, a Z-Pak. I have an inhaler. Today, my doctor wants me to start a Medrol Dosepak (steroids). Has anyone else tried this and has it helped? I'm desperate to try anything right now as long as I can get better. Please give me your thoughts on the steroids; I'm seeing mixed reviews in here.</p><p> <strong>I've been sick with COVID symptoms</strong> for 22 weeks. I'm not getting better. My original symptoms haven't gone away, and I just develop new ones every few weeks. I read an article on three immune responses to this virus. 1) Overactive immune response 2) Normal immune response 3) little or no immune response.</p><p>I am having little or no immune response to this virus.</p><p>It's taking over my body slowly. My primary doctor can't help me. My family and husband don't believe my symptoms and I have nowhere to turn. </p><p>I am so frightened.</p><p><strong>How many of you are experiencing hair loss</strong>, especially hair loss after 5 months? I'm shedding like a dog. </p><p><strong>I had COVID in June</strong>. At least 15 straight days in bed. No smell, no taste except certain spices. I've been diagnosed with two eye conditions now. Fatigue won't go away. Simple things like unloading the dishwasher or taking a shower exhaust me; I need to sit down. Has anyone recovered from these symptoms? If so, how long did it take?</p><p><strong>Has anyone experienced increased joint pain</strong>, specifically in your hands, after COVID? I've had some joint pain in the past, but never this much. It's been four months since I had the virus and the pain seems to have increased since then. [<em>147 comments on this, nearly every one verifying joint pain, especially in hands, ankles, and elbows</em>.]</p>
Medics wait to transport a woman with possible Covid-19 symptoms to the hospital on August 07, 2020 in Austin, Texas.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images<p><strong>I had COVID symptoms for 2.5 weeks</strong> in March (could not get tested). I was a lot better for two months and then started the whole ordeal again 70 days ago (and am still sick). I have been to the ER twice and told that they think I have COVID. My clinic nurse said the same thing, as did my friend, who is an Urgent Care doctor.</p><p>I have had weeks where my fever went away and other symptoms decreased. But several times now, it comes back full force with a vengeance. The roller coaster is depressing. </p><p><strong>I was fortunate enough to be accepted </strong>into the Mt. Sinai post-COVID treatment program and was really happy to have some experts keep an eye on my long-term effects. Four months after COVID, my EKG came back normal, my antibodies high, and my bloodwork normal. My next tests were a lung function test and CT scan to see if there's long-term damage from the pneumonia. I just got a letter from my health insurance company, Oxford, rejecting the cost of the CT scan. I'm so disappointed. Is anyone else having their COVID treatments rejected by health insurance?</p><p><strong>I'm new here and it looks I'm one of the youngins</strong> in the group (19 btw). I got COVID about a month ago, and I got out of quarantine about a week-and-a-half ago, and I still have yet to see any of my friends. I wouldn't say I'm super popular but I do have a lot of friends, so I thought most of them would want to see me. I was super wrong. The stigma around COVID, especially with the younger demographic, was a joke before I got it in my friend group. Every single one of my friends didn't take it seriously and thought it would never appear in anyone they knew. When I got the virus it sent them all into shock and a couple of them hated me saying it was all my fault telling me that I shouldn't leave my house for a couple months and to not talk to them until next year. Now that I'm fully recovered I thought some friends would want to see me, but actually nobody does. </p><p><strong>Rapid heart rate when standing</strong> (160s-170s). Advice on how to deal with it? Twenty-three days from a positive test. Fever is pretty much gone but I'm trying to get back on my feet, literally. I'm kind of at a loss—whether this is temporary or I should ask my doctor for certain tests. My heart rate is elevated even when lying down (and is tolerable) but even more elevated when sitting. Seems like this isn't just "fatigue."</p><p><strong>My husband recovered from COVID</strong> last month but has been in a lot of pain. Weak and tired all the time. He gets tingly fingers and hands and feet and his ankles feel weak, like his bones are brittle. Has anyone else had this? He's rolled his ankles two or three times since and this has never happened before. His body just feels worn out and exhausted all the time, like he's a 70-year-old man, and he's only 34.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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