Have you ever wanted to learn a foreign language, but felt overwhelmed by thinking about how much information your brain would have to retain and memorise?
A popular, but rather false belief is that as we age, our brain loses neuroplasticity, making learning a foreign language much harder. In contrast, research provides valid reasons why picking up a new language is possible at any stage of life.
What is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt, grow and develop when change occurs in a person’s environment. Contrary to the old belief, neuroplasticity is active throughout an individual’s life. Neuroplasticity is indeed the most effective and effortless in childhood; it is steady until age 25 and starts decreasing afterward. Still, it is not a significant factor in learning a foreign language. Adults are also capable of high neuroplasticity; we just have to put more thought and conscious effort into achieving it.
Ways to boost neuroplasticity and foreign language learning.
First of all, we need to realise that the brain’s ability to pick up a new language at an older age is not impossible or as complicated as one might think. Some proven ways to support your neuroplasticity and foreign language learning are:
- Improving your ability to focus
- Studying for a suitable amount of time and resting appropriately
To delve into this a bit deeper, lets’ expand more on focus: learning is crucial, but can be extremely hard to maintain. Poor focus often occurs, because our brain is prone to get distracted easily by all sorts of external stimuli such as sounds and smells, and internally by having thoughts, emotions, and sudden urges.
It is also essential to consider the number of distractions that we are facing daily, primarily caused by the Internet, smartphones, and other technology. By being constantly distracted and telling ourselves we are practicing multitasking (which is an impossible task to our human brain), we are preventing the work that neuroplasticity is supposed to do. Therefore, we are preventing our ability to learn and memorize.
Another essential factor is metacognition, which as per definition, means awareness and understanding of one’ own thought processes; (essentially thinking about thinking), allows us to look at ourselves and our environment more objectively. This can boost your neuroplasticity if you consider the gaps between your expectations of what you want to do and what you can do now and dedicate enough time to rest.
Researchers suggest that a 90-minute- study/work session followed by a short period of doing nothing and a good night’s sleep for at least a few days can boost your neuroplasticity by retaining information.
A point worth mentioning is that resting after a session is the most effective if you don’t engage in activities that require thinking. Therefore, it is advisable to go for a walk, run, nap, or practice nonsleep deep rest and not jump through apps getting lost in social media.
So, being realistic about your goals, focusing on them without distractions and having good working/studying and rest times can be very powerful for learning a foreign language , even though it might sound simple.
Many can overcome difficulties such as maintaining focus and remaining motivated by managing their time and attention well. However, when it comes to foreign language learning anxiety, many learners feel extremely overwhelmed and quit their language learning journey all together.
Letting yourself go on the adventure of learning a new language doesn’t have to be daunting as there are ways to have a smoother and more enjoyable language-learning experience. Raffaella and Nicole developed a 21-Day Italian Learning Course designed to provide authentic Italian lessons and address/guide you through the most common difficulties that foreign language learners encounter.
The Mindful Italian Experience uses research-based findings and techniques. The learner will be provided with the tools and information to make them feel more confident, motivated, efficient and ownership over their learning.
Neuroplasticity, foreign language learning and its benefits
Thanks to neuroplasticity, we can be more adaptable and gain more cognitive flexibility, resulting in feeling more at home when abroad or when staying in our own country and interacting with people from abroad. Foreign language learning has a positive impact on our brains; not only does knowing a foreign language provide us with various benefits, such as being able to form more meaningful connections with people from other communities, understand the beauty of a different culture, and not having to experience a language barrier while traveling or living abroad, but it also has benefits for our brains.
For example, those who can speak at least two languages fluently tend to have better cognitive reactivity and memory. Studies also suggest that ‘bilinguals tend to develop dementia four to five years later (Bak, 2016) and that bilingualism can result in slower cognitive aging which essentially means an individual will be able to maintain a better level of memory, the ability of reasoning and processing while getting older.
Our brain is complex and fascinating, which makes it so important to learn more about how it functions. The Mindful Italian Experience is research-based and is designed to help you boost your focus and productivity, to learn more about how your brain operates faster by using the tools suggested to make you more confident and positive about your language learning experience.
To try a free lesson, please click here. Learning a foreign language is one of the wonders we can do regardless of age. These skills benefit our inner and outer existence and are vital to many great experiences, adventures, and knowledge.
Bak, T. (2016). Language lessons to help protect against dementia. BMJ. 354(5039).
Gazzaley, A., Rosen, L. D., (2016). The Distracted Mind Ancient Brains in a High-Tech
World. Mit Press. 304 pages.
Huberman, A. (2021). How to Focus to Change Your Brain | Huberman Lab Podcast #6. Youtube.
Klimova, B. (2018). Learning a Foreign Language: A Review on Recent Findings About Its
Effect on the Enhancement of Cognitive Functions Among Healthy Older Individuals.
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 12(305).