Learning something new can be both exciting and challenging. With the pandemic of COVID-19 landing millions of people at home, many are taking advantage of the learning opportunities the extra time brings.
In addition to offering free time, the recent pandemic is also contributing to increased anxiety and depression. How can you use the extra hours while maintaining your mental health?
Master a new language.
At first glance, learning a new language lies somewhere between extremely tough and nearly impossible. By taking it one step at a time, you can be throwing new words around in a matter of weeks. Coupled with the health benefits it brings, a new language is your opportunity to tap into other cultures during the pandemic and beyond.
Benefits of Learning a New Language:
1. Improve Cognitive Functions
When you are learning and using a new language, you are exercising your brain. As a result, cognitive functions may improve. According to an analysis of 63 studies conducted by researchers at Washington State University, bilingual people exercise:
- Increased attentional control
- Better working memory
- Better abstract and symbolic representation skills
- And much more
While mastering a new language, you are likely to notice that learning other things becomes easier. This can go a long way for honing new skills while staying at home.
2. Fight Depression
More than 264 million people in the world suffer from depression. As the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving many people jobless and keeping them from seeing family and friends, the number is likely to be growing.
Learning a new language pushes you to expose yourself to new expressions, ideas, and people. You can strengthen connections and form relationships without leaving your home. This can be highly beneficial for your well-being while helping fight anxiety and depression.
3. Delay Dementia Symptoms
When you are learning a new language, your brain literally becomes stronger because the integrity of the white matter increases. Its duty is to allow messages to travel fast and efficiently across the nerve network and to the brain. Eventually, you strengthen the white matter of your brain. This can delay dementia symptoms by more than four years.
While dementia may seem far off, think about learning a new language as an investment in your health and future.
4. Recover from Brain Injury
Just like dementia, a stroke may not be something you think about now. However, it's always beneficial to be prepared. According to the University of Edinburgh research, learning a new language can help you recover from a brain injury, such as a stroke, and start leading a normal life faster. This is only effective if you have learned a new language prior to the injury.
"Bilingualism makes people switch from one language to another, so while they inhibit one language, they have to activate another to communicate. This switching offers practically constant brain training which may be a factor in helping stroke patients recover," – Thomas Bak, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences
5. Open Your Mind
When people study a foreign language, they usually become more open-minded which leads to less prejudiced opinions. Concordia University conducted a study to see how speaking two languages reflects on children's life views.
It turned out that bilingual children believed that individual traits come from experience rather than being inherited. Monolingual children had opposite beliefs.
Children were asked, "If a duck was raised by a dog, would it quack or bark?" Many bilingual children thought it would bark while monolinguals generally believed it would quack.
This represented learning a new language helping people open their minds and identify with others.
6. Boost Confidence
When you learn a new language, you have to overcome many psychological barriers and get past the insecurity of attempting something new. As you learn, your confidence in your abilities grows.
Learning a new language can offer immediate rewards. When you learn a new word, you can use it immediately to communicate, translate, or understand a part of your favorite song.
These rewards go a long way toward boosting your confidence and self-awareness. At a time when many are staying at home, such confidence-boosters are helpful for staying sharp and sane.
7. Improve Multitasking Skills
When it comes to multitasking, bilingual people do a much better job than those who speak only one language. Being multilingual means constantly making fast choices when speaking. As the brain learns to switch modes, it applies the skill to other areas.
The ability to multitask is a skill that always comes in handy, reducing stress as you are able to get more done in less time.
8. Have Fun
With so much entertainment closed right now, it can be hard to keep yourself occupied. Learning a new language can be a fun activity, and effective if you are consistent.
Studying a language could turn into a hobby you've been trying to find. It can also help you prepare for all the trips you plan to take once travel opens up again!
10 Quick Tips for Learning a New Language
- Start speaking the language as soon as you know common words. Verbalization can help make what you're learning stick.
- Watch movies in the new language. Rewatching movies you've seen can make it easier to follow.
- Install a dictionary app on your phone and use it profusely.
- Find a native speaker and ask as many questions as you can, especially "how do you say that?" Ask to practice having conversations with them.
- Find a partner. Learning together isn't just fun, it's motivational.
- Leave your comfort zone any time you can. You'll make mistakes. Accept it.
- Listen to others talk. It can help you mimic the accent and intonations.
- Learn about the culture. It can help you fall in love with the language.
- Be consistent. The more you practice, the more it'll stick.
- Enjoy the process. Seems impossible? Just keep learning. The fun will come.
The first steps toward learning a new language could be complicated, long, and even frustrating. But once you get through them, you can discover an ocean of possibilities for self-awareness, exploration, and entertainment.
Given all the mental health benefits, studying a language is a substantial investment in your well-being. Consider taking the opportunity offered by the lockdown to give a new language a chance.