Speaking Multiple Languages Can Change the Way You Think

Hallo! Wie geht’s? That’s German for “Hello! What’s up?”

I studied the German language for three semesters at Penn State and decided to explore the language because of that country’s growing economy. Upon further investigation of languages, I stumbled across information pertaining to how learning a new language can affect the brain.

What Happens When You Learn a New Language?

When learning a new language, you activate portions of the brain that help you think more efficiently. A new study found that a bilingual speaker may process information quicker than people who speak only one language. Bilinguals expressed a stronger ability to suppress irrelevant language-information —  their brains simply won’t absorb unnecessary information that will not help them progress in learning. This ability stems from a bilingual’s approach to everyday language-use and association. Simply, information from the language not currently in use must be ignored. Thus, you can expect life-long cerebral cortex changes in people who speak more than one language, such as processing information faster and more efficiently. This also means that you are building a stronger network of neurons in the brain that communicate more effectively. If you are bilingual, you are more likely to become trilingual, and it becomes easier to learn new languages.

Language Immersion

While it is important to study the material given to you and learn words to ace exams, it’s safe to say that using Pareto analysis in learning a language — that is, applying 20% of your brain power to memorize new words — can result in 80% of comprehension (Pareto’s Principle of 80/20 dictates that 80% of the results in any endeavor come from 20% of the effort). In English, 300 words comprise 65% of all written material. We use these words a lot, and it’s important to note that this applies to all languages.

It is also important to note that you do not have to travel to a country to learn a language. Many people who live abroad don’t necessarily learn a language as fast as people who are submerged in daily activities through distance learning or media. Living in a different country and really learning a language can be two completely different things. Virtual immersion has made it possible for millions to learn a new language. For example, the Internet has been a savior for some people. In any language, we can search for the top 300 words in that language via the web and speak fluently just by learning the top 300 words in that language. Spotify, a leading music search engine that enables you to download an unlimited amount of music every day for a small monthly fee, also gives us access to learning new languages. This enhances our own abilities and increases our confidence by learning before we travel to the destination where our language of choice is being spoken. It is important to know which words are important to retain and learn. Click here for Top 300 Words in English and to get more information about the language you are most interested in learning. The British Counsel reports that by 2020, two billion people will be taking online courses to learn the English language.

What I Did to Learn a New Language

In 2013, I met with my friend Keith every Wednesday for two to three hours at an Israeli café in Brooklyn to practice speaking the German language. At that time I was in my third semester of German while Keith was in his second. We agreed we would speak only in German. We slowly learned we weren’t the only ones who spoke the language: our fellow language learners in the café included the cash attendant and bus boy. Keith also had a mutual friend who spoke German, and we invited her to join us a few times. This practice brought me a lot of success in my courses.

How David Bailey, CEO of Spotnight, Learned French in 17 Days

David Bailey posted an answer on Quora, a collection of questions and answers from everyday people. David had already become fluent in Spanish (in addition to English as his native language), so French was his third language of choice.

How did he do it?

  • He traveled to France and stayed with a friend in Beaujolais. Being a Penn Stater at World Campus enables you to live anywhere in the world and explore its culture.
  • He set a daily routine. Every day for two hours he wrote and rewrote irregular and regular verbs in French.
  • He listened to a live-classroom language scenario where he would hear the instructor and students exchanging proper word use, pronunciation and proper word-order. Hearing a live classroom setting helped David learn twice as fast.
  • He ran for 45 to 60 minutes every day and listened to French music. Music is a great way to learn a new language.
  • He had lunch with people who did not speak at a slower rate of understanding.
  • He read children’s books in French. They are easy enough to understand (especially if you know how the stories go), and you can guess more accurately what a word means without looking it up in a dictionary.
  • He wrote essays about himself in French. His friend would check it for errors and tell him what he should work on.
  • He learned filler words, such as the English filler words “of,” “and,” “but,” “then,” “in fact.”

List of Penn State’s Foreign Language Courses

Penn State offers a variety of languages to learn, and most degree programs  require students to learn a new language. The foreign languages available through Penn State World Campus include:

  • Spanish
  • German
  • Italian
  • French

What are some ways you have learned a new language?