spanish writing

Spanish is one of the most common languages in the United States. 

Are you looking for a new skill? Or do you need encouragement to get through a difficult foreign language class? All the answers lie in what happens to the brain when humans learn a new language. Learning a new language gives you a superpower. Find out why below.

Bilingual speakers juggle the knowledge of two languages at once. They literally harness two separate ways of thinking. Having full knowledge of a language includes knowing the words, sound system, writing system, grammar, and expressions. When a person acquires full knowledge, or even part-knowledge, their brain exchanges information between the left and right sides. This phenomenon does not stop here.

You have probably heard a friend of yours remark with sarcasm, “I just lost a brain cell” after they do an activity that was a waste of their time or brain energy. This is the exact opposite of language learning. Language learning exercises and enhances the brain in a physical sense. Specifically, the regions of the brain involved in learning and speaking new languages.

Just as it takes exercise to grow muscle and increase metabolism in the rest of the human body, learning new languages does the same thing for the brain. The act of passing information between both sides of the brain is an extraordinary exercise for the mind. The brain increases in size and therefore becomes stronger. You literally “gain brain cells” as opposed to “losing them.”

The executive region of the brain is what processes multiple languages. Since language learning enhances this region, the other functions in this location are enhanced. A stronger executive function means people who speak multiple languages are better at analyzing their surroundings, problem-solving, and multitasking.

When it comes to being a college student, these skills are greatly needed. Studying and staying focused in school can be difficult, especially when taking a class you have no interest in. Enhancing these executive functions in your mind will make these frustrating situations less so. Acquiring a new language takes patience, motivation, and progress. These skills can help you achieve your goals, such as graduating from college and making you a more well-rounded individual.

Better yet, after learning one foreign language, learning more afterward becomes easier. Especially if they belong to the same language family. According to Encyclopedia.com, a language family is a group of languages related through the descent of a common ancestral or parental language.

There are hundreds of these language families. Some that may sound familiar are the Slavic, Romance, Germanic, and Semitic language families. National Geographic says the English language belongs to the Germanic language family. Languages in the same family share similar characteristics because they all descend from the same language.

A bonus of speaking English as your first language is that you have already mastered one of the harder languages that exist. English has certain rules that do not make sense and are not consistent. Birgit Jensen, a professor of German at ECU and Ph.D. of German Literature, can attest to this.

“English has strange spelling and pronunciation rules. You have to learn by heart that ‘said’ looks like ‘paid’ but is pronounced differently,” she said. Jensen grew up in Germany and her native tongue was German. When she learned English, she found that there were strange rules she needed to wrap her head around.

For example, Spanish and Italian speakers can understand each other well because they are both romance languages. These languages share a lot of words that are similar in spelling and pronunciation. According to The Language Doctors, the English word “probable” is “probabile” in Italian and “probable” in Spanish. Even so, there are some languages across different families that have similarities. Cristina Estrada-Underwood, a Professor of Spanish at ECU, relates this fact when it comes to the similarities between some words in English and Spanish.

“My students love cognates because they easily understand the meaning without having to translate,” she said. Cognates are words in Spanish that look and sound similar to English words and also have the same meaning.

You can still take your study habits from your previous language and apply them to the new language, even if it is in a very distant family than your native tongue or other languages you have learned in the past. Estrada-Underwood believes, “As a third or fourth language learner, you can apply the same strategies and study habits you might have used in your previous language learning experience.”

There are so many languages to choose from, so you might feel overwhelmed. Fear not! When picking a foreign language, you need to consider what you will gain from it after learning it. Once you figure this out, picking your language will be a breeze. Things to consider include whether it is widely spoken, offered at ECU and the level of difficulty it has, especially compared to the language you currently speak.

If you want to travel the world and speak this language, it is not practical to pick a language only a small population speaks. Great languages to choose from for this include Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese.

Another thing to consider is if it is offered here at ECU. This is important because if you feel you need a teacher to help you learn, you may have to pay extra money for a tutor outside of ECU, especially if this is the first foreign language you want to learn, it might be more practical to pick one offered with your college tuition. The foreign languages offered here at ECU include Spanish, French, German, Russian, Italian, Japanese, Latin, and Greek.

An additional point to consider when picking a new language to learn is its level of difficulty compared to your native language. For example, if English is your first spoken language, don’t pick a language with an extraordinarily different structure from English. You might get discouraged too early. If you are in this position, you should choose a language that uses the Latin Alphabet before taking on languages that use an entirely different alphabet. Many Latin-based languages are offered here at ECU.

Learning a new language may not be easy for everybody, but it is a valuable skill to have in the world and will only open doors of opportunity. Do not give up when it gets hard during the learning process because it only gets easier once those learning hurdles are passed.

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