Brain dead? Smarten up and learn a language

Why stop at English? There are plenty of reasons to learn a language and sharpening up your brain tops them all.

You sometimes forget things or find it hard to retain information. Perhaps you struggle to concentrate for long periods, although in the age of Instagram stories it’s you and about 2 billion others. You’re not dumb (of course not) but fear your grey matter may be letting you down.

It could be time to build some brain muscle – but how? Cryptic crosswords or sudoku work for some but send others into a violent rage. Besides, puzzles aren’t the most interactive way of engaging our intellect.

Learning another language may be the answer. It’ll not only boost your cognitive skills but also help in warding off the likes of dementia later on in life.

Many of us were encouraged / forced to endure foreign language classes in high school and for most that’s where studying languages ended.

Unless you were lucky enough to have a flamenco dancing Spanish teacher putting on a piñata every class there was little incentive to pay attention.

After two years of French a student might go on to visit Paris one day only to remember critical phrases such as “Is the window open?” or “Your dog is black”.

Travelling overseas was still a novelty idea until the 1990s when working holidays and backpacking became the thing to do for twenty-somethings.

Then flights became cheaper, new destinations started popping up and plenty of people were up for overseas travel. Learning at least the basics of a foreign language was the norm.

Then along came 2020 and the travel brakes were firmly applied.

While current restrictions may prevent us from the thrills of foreign travel, there are still plenty of opportunities to utilize a second language.

So choose a language, any language and reap the benefits.

Or “colher os beneficios” / “gặt hái những lợi ích” as they say in Portuguese and Vietnamese. See you’re learning already.

Super-charged brain

Learning a new language means learning new grammatical systems and structures. It requires deep analytical thinking and calls on your problem – solving abilities which transfer favorably into many other facets of life. This can range from deciding how to cut costs at home and work to assembling supposedly simple bookshelves from certain Scandinavian furniture stores.

Enhance memory

As you push yourself to memorize and recall new vocabulary and patterns, you’ll notice your ability to retain information, directions, numbers and names will be improved.

This goes beyond remembering where you put your keys or the name of your aunt’s neighbour’s dog.

A stronger memory enables you to remember precise details about others which strengthens relationships.

Anything of interest or importance that you’ve read, heard or watched is now committed to memory and can be called upon whenever needed. Within reason of course – proudly naming every Oscar winner for the past 40 years is showing off and unnecessary.

Can’t understand me? Great!

An often overlooked bonus of speaking a second language is being able to gossip and complain about people right in front of them. It’s even better if at least someone else understands and is in cahoots. People may suspect you’re talking about them but won’t be able to prove it. The perfect crime.

Freely criticizing sloppy restaurant service, bad breath, dull speeches – the sky really is the limit.

Childish? Probably. Fun? Definitely.

Observe, decide, act

Learning a new language requires you to quickly decide on the appropriate grammar and tone to use in various situations.  Each language is unique in its nuances and colloquialisms.

Think of how we adapt our English depending on who we’re talking to and where. It comes naturally to native speakers and to then be able to do it in a second language will sharpen your overall decision – making ability.

You’ll be able to quickly focus on likely outcomes, recognize misleading information and be confident in your choices.

I’ll steer clear of those stocks, I’ll start looking for a new job, I won’t call my next born child Ophelia or Wigbert.

Need a Punjabi speaker? Here I am

Having at least conversational level skills in a foreign language can make you more employable.

Being fluent in the most sought – after languages such as Mandarin, Spanish, Japanese and German will open plenty of doors. Even if your second language isn’t as widely used it still shows prospective employers you have the grit to knuckle down and apply your smarts to something.

Word of warning – be sure your skills are as you say. Nothing worse than being unable to answer “How are you today?” in your claimed second language.

An awkward silence is awkward in any language.

There are plenty of languages out there for everyone. Learning with a friend can be not only great fun but also a powerful motivator to stick at it.

Or course, learning by yourself ticks plenty of boxes. Go at your own pace, keeping your new language powers secret until you can suddenly reveal them for mass effect.

Imagine the panicky scenes at an amusement park as a lost child from overseas tries to communicate with hapless staff.

“Does anyone speak Southern Azerbaijani?!” someone asks.

Calmly you step forward, clearing your throat. “Əlbəttə – Kömək etmək üçün burdayam.”

“Of course – I’m here to help.”


  1. I think lockdowns due to COVID have prompted many to continue, or enrol, in language courses but nothing beats learning by staying in a “foreign” country eh? That said, online classes may be the only way to go for quite a while, so time to knuckle down & start using what’s left of one’s grey matter.

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