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The AIU blog shares ideas, information and tips aimed at helping you get ahead personally and professionally, with topics ranging from online learning success to career development.

The Bilingual Brain: Why Foreign Language Fluency Can Make You Smarter

Bilingual Learning

It’s no secret that in today's multicultural society, knowing more than one language has positive career implications, but other effects for learning are now being illuminated. Adding to the mix of opportunities in learning a foreign language through exchange programs, international travel and online degree programs, bilingualism is hardly uncommon, though still not fully appreciated for all its facets. Educators once believed that, though bilingualism was beneficial for professional reasons, it created conflict in the brain that hindered intellectual development. Recent studies have shown, however, that bilingual people can actually benefit from this internal conflict.

The Function of the Bilingual Brain

When you know more than one language, each of the learned languages remains active in your brain at all times. When you're speaking, listening or reading in one language, your knowledge of the other languages may interfere with your thought processes. When these conflicts arise, your brain must work to resolve them.

Benefits of Becoming Bilingual

  • Bilingualism gives the brain a constant workout. As your brain analyzes and resolves conflicts between languages, your cognitive skills can be strengthened.
  • You perform better on mentally demanding tasks. Because of the constant cognitive workout, you could be more capable of solving problems that include complex or misleading information.
  • You develop a deeper understanding of your native language. As you study a foreign language, you can develop a more sophisticated understanding of linguistic patterns, grammar and sentence structure in general.
  • Becoming bilingual improves the brain's executive function. Learning a second language can improve your ability to focus on specific tasks while ignoring distractions. You could also become more proficient at multitasking and remembering complex information.
  • Fluency in more than one language reduces risks of dementia. Recent studies suggest that learning a second language may reduce the chance of dementia and related cognitive problems that come with age.

Studying Foreign Language Later in Life

Though it may be easier to learn a foreign language at a young age, it's never too late to get started. Whether you are working toward an online bachelor's degree or a more advanced online degree, learning a second language will be advantageous. You can improve your credentials with a second language, and studies have shown that many of the cognitive benefits available to younger learners who study foreign language are also available to those who begin their studies later in life.

In light of recent research outcomes, fluency in more than one language can no longer be considered a hindrance to cognitive development. In fact, including a second language in your online degree program may improve your ability to reason, solve complex problems, multitask and ignore distractions or irrelevant information. Furthermore, becoming bilingual may prevent the development of cognitive impairments as you age. When combined with the professional advantages of bilingualism, these cognitive benefits can only serve to enhance the appeal of becoming bilingual.