What Happens in Your Brain When You Learn a Language

The process of learning something new requires an individual to pay full attention for them to truly acquire it. However, learning a new language is different from studying other concepts that you know. You need to memorize and make sense of unfamiliar sounds, finally working your way to producing those sounds yourself.

That’s the short version of how people acquire a language, but there’s a lot more that goes on in the brain during that whole process.

A world of multilingualism

Before we get started, however, let’s take a quick look at why people would even benefit from speaking more than one language. This might be a tricky question to answer when you natively speak English, Spanish, or Mandarin – a language that is spoken by hundreds of millions across the globe. But, in today’s increasingly multilingual world, around two-thirds of children grow up in a household where more than one language is spoken.

And, whether you become multilingual as a child or an adult, it brings with it a laundry list of cognitive and social benefits. From a delayed onset of dementia to being able to juggle more tasks at once, languages improve your brain’s plasticity for the long term. Not to mention the ability to work all over the globe.

But how exactly does learning a new language cause all of these positive changes?

A change for the better

Much like a jog in the crisp autumn air is good for your muscles, learning a second language is good for your brain; it is a full-body workout but for your mind.

Researchers have discovered that while you’re working on acquiring your next language, the process is changing both the way your brain is put together and works. These changes happen at every age, although the effects are more pronounced the younger you are.

Learning to speak a new language is a complex activity that requires the two sides of your brain to work together. You need to be able to process new sounds, memorize vocabulary, wrap your head around novel grammatical concepts, and then put that all into producing utterances of your own. This leads to a better connected neural network all together where information gets processed more effectively overall. There is an increase in grey matter density and white matter integrity, both of which signal a healthier brain.

Try writing your resume in different languages

The process of learning a new language will require you to keep on practicing in order to memorize what you have learned. One of the best ways to practice the new language is by writing your resume in different languages. ResumeThatWorks.com provides individuals with resume examples in different languages, from which you can learn the new language. Most of the resumes follow a particular format, and this makes it easy for an individual to master the keywords in a foreign language. By doing a lot of practice, you will eventually realize how easy it is to learn another language.

Your Brain Expands

And it’s not only the connections in your brain that get better. A study in Sweden showed that certain parts of the brain can actually physically grow. The parts affected were the hippocampus (which is very much involved any time you learn something new) and some parts of the cerebral cortex (the areas mostly involved in language processing). Funnily enough, no growth was detected in the study’s control group, who also acquired new information but did not focus on languages.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that brain size does in no way correlate with more intelligence, but it’s still interesting to see how even a short period of language-learning (the study took place over 3 months) can physically improve your brain.

Bigger changes in children

All of the studies mentioned before looked at how languages change adults’ brains. But there’s one group of people who seem to be natural at everything learning-related: children. And, no surprise, all of the positive effects acquiring a new language has on adults are even more dramatic in children.

Remember all that brain flexibility that adults saw after a couple of months? Children have that naturally; it’s what makes them so good at picking up language in their stride.

So, with neuroplasticity that’s already better than adults, the positive effects of being raised in a multilingual home become especially dramatic. Even children as young as 7 months have shown better cognitive abilities over their monolingual peers. And these benefits last all the way through school.

But even if you haven’t been brought up in a multilingual household, there’s still a chance for you.

Learning a new language in college

Many people tend to learn new languages while in college. Colleges around the world have a diverse population, which motivates an individual to learn a new language to communicate with friends from different parts of the world. Therefore, studying languages in college turns out to be more interesting than writing the perfect essay since one can practice speaking it with their friends.


Learning a new language is a fun activity regardless of how challenging it might seem. All that you need is a passion for learning. With the right strategies, it will be easy to learn regardless of an individual’s age. And keeping in mind that learning a new language comes with so many positive side effects, it’s not hard to keep yourself motivated in your language-learning process.

Although children reap the most benefits from being brought up bilingual, adults of all ages can see their brains improve once they start learning. Not only do parts of your brain get physically bigger, the whole thing gets better connected. And these effects last until old age, keeping your brain stronger and able to resist diseases such as dementia.

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