Learning languages opens up opportunities, bridges gaps between people and their environment, and, most importantly, is key in building communities and a sense of belonging to them. It is paramount in globalized society, and it feels pretty cool too! 😛
For the very curious out there, here are 5 cool facts about how and why you learn languages:
1. Linguistic Intelligence
As mentioned here, different types of intelligence influence how and what we learn. In the case of language learning, linguistic intelligence applies, and here are its characteristics:
- Greater awareness of sound, rhythm and meaning of words.
- Ease in transmitting ideas, in writing and orally.
- Great capacity for written and spoken argument comprehension.
2. Cognitive Reserve
Going back and forth between languages helps the brain to develop and build on a cognitive reserve. It’s like connect-the-dot, but the goal is to connect as many dots to as many others as you can. Switching between two or more languages on a daily basis creates more and more different paths for information to flow through your brain, and this has been shown to protect against cognitive impairment diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. This type of degenerative disease will erase these pathways, and if you have built many of them, and many different ones, your brain can re-route the information for longer, for instance, delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s in up to 4 years.
3. Metalinguistic Ability
This means to be aware of language as an object, something you can play with and reflect on. This is important for language learning because it empowers the learner to fully understand how and why the language they are using is made that way, and then contrast it to another, and learn from the experiment.
According to this study, you exercise metalinguistic awareness via three main skills:
- An awareness that language has the potential to go beyond simple symbols
- Understanding that the meaning of words can change, that it is in the “mind of the beholder” not in the word itself. An orange will remain the same if you call it a banana. But the word “orange” can mean different things to different people in various contexts.
- Recognizing that language is changeable and you can manipulate it and apply it in different ways. You can rephrase sentences to change their meaning, or express the same meaning with a variety of sentences.
4. Incidental Learning
That is when you learn something as a result of doing something else, not from focused effort to learn a specific thing. Haven’t you ever randomly used a word or sentence in another language which you couldn’t recall having practiced, or learned in class?
In language learning this is very frequent and very important, it’s why we watch movies, listen to music, read books and play games in the languages we want to learn. By making the effort about something else, you “trick” your brain into learning the language content of whatever you are doing.
5. Bridging Gaps
Much of the information and knowledge available in the world is only in one specific language, or only available at a specific place in a country foreign to you. You can either wait for someone to translate it into your language, or go ahead and build that bridge yourself! Speaking from experience, becoming a language octopus feels amazing!
Mora, Jill Kerper. “METALINGUISTIC AWARENESS AS DEFINED THROUGH RESEARCH”. San Diego State University