Don’t just detox your body, detox your mind! Lots of people use crosswords and puzzles to keep their brains sharp, but learning a language is a far better way. Here are the 5 potential stages of language learning “Brain Detox,” that will purify and fortify your brain:
1 Week: first words
Apart from a few language savants, we all start out as struggling novices. Your accent is atrocious and you forget basic words on the regular, but you still stick to it! Even at this early stage, your efforts aren’t wasted. These first steps of language learning boost your brain’s creativity, and many people claim to develop a new personality when speaking a new language. That’s not all. According to Cathy Price, neuroimaging researcher at University College London, “When you learn more language, your posterior supramarginal gyrus will get a workout, and be stimulated to grow.” Neuroimaging shows more gray matter density with more than one language spoken. More matter = muy bueno.
1 Month: conversational
Your efforts are starting to pay off! Only 15 minutes of studying per day, and you can already have multiple conversations in another language. Now you’re really starting to see some brain benefits. Bilingual brains suppress the use of the new language, which pumps up inhibitory control. This means those extra gray cells are helping to filter out excess information during everyday tasks. For example, trying to order in a loud restaurant or talking to someone in a crowded subway are far easier tasks for a bilingual, because their brain simply filters out extra ambient sound.
3 Months: real results
Your days of uncertainty seem like ancient history at this point. Not only do you have some showy skills in your new language, but your brain is thanking you daily because speaking another language improves executive function. Sound impressive? It should. Executive function is the set of cognitive abilities that support goal-oriented behavior like attentive focus, prioritizing, planning, self monitoring control, judgment, working memory, and analysis. Sure, being more creative and hearing better are pretty sweet, but this is some serious brain power we’re talking about.
1 Year: bilingual
Savasana! You made it! Your brain is now an Olympian compared to what it once was. Seriously. One study comparing monolingual and bilingual brains found that the monolingual brains had to work harder when given certain tasks, whereas the bilingual brain expended little effort. It’s like the difference between an athlete and an out of shape person running a mile: the trained body won’t work as hard. The best part is once you’ve learned enough of another language (not even necessarily at a fluent level!), your brain constantly inhibits the inactive language. As Viorica Marian, language expert at Northwestern University puts it: “That’s the exciting part. Using another language provides the brain built-in exercise. You don’t have to go out of your way to do a puzzle because the brain is already constantly juggling two languages.”
Lifetime: fluent in multiple languages
Dare we even suggest this level of brain power? If juggling two languages gives your brain a constant workout, imagine what juggling three or more languages is like! Whoa, let’s calm down a bit and mention one last, major perk to speaking only two languages. Recent studies about the effects of bilingualism on Alzheimer’s disease found that bilingual participants reported the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms an average of 5.1 years later than monolinguals. If these results are to be believed, learning a second language and becoming bilingual could add years to your life.