(Natural News) A study published in the journal Brain Sciences has found that learning a second language can alter how the senses work together to interpret speech. The study, carried out by researchers at Northwestern University, has established that bilingual individuals are better at putting together sight and hearing to perceive speech.
In particular, when people hear speech sounds that contradict with what they see, they will often perceive an entirely different sound. This illusion is referred to as the “McGurk Effect,” which was discovered to occur more likely if you speak more than one language. This indicates that language experience can influence how the world is perceived.
“Our discovery is that bilinguals are more likely to integrate across auditory and visual senses,” said Viorica Marian, one of the researchers of the study and a professor at Northwestern University.
“A bilingual and monolingual listening to the same speaker can hear two completely different sounds, showing that language experience affects even the most basic cognitive process,” explained Sayuri Hayakawa, a co-author of the study.
Bilinguals find it more difficult to understand what they hear because multiple languages compete with each other in the brain, according to earlier research. Because of this, bilinguals tend to depend more heavily on visual input to interpret sound.
Bilingual experience can affect domains ranging from memory to decision making, to cognitive control. However, these findings indicate that studying a second language can even affect basic sensory experiences.
The benefits of knowing how to speak foreign languages
- You become more clever – Speaking another language enhances the brain’s functionality by challenging it to identify and negotiate meaning and communicate in various language systems. Moreover, people who study foreign languages are more likely to get higher scores on standardized tests, especially in math, reading, and vocabulary, compared to those who only speak one language.
- You’re a multi-tasker – Multilingual people, particularly children, have the ability to switch between two systems of speech, writing, and structure. In a study, participants attempted to multi-task using a driving simulator while simultaneously doing other distracting tasks. Results showed that those who are multilingual made lesser mistakes in their driving.
- You have a lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases – Studies have shown that the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, develops later in people who speak more than one language compared to monolingual individuals.
- Your memory gets better – Learning a new language enhances memory as it involves memorizing rules and vocabularies, which helps strengthen mental muscles.
- You are more observant – Individuals who speak two or more languages are more observant of their surroundings than monolingual individuals, according to a study from the University of Pompeu Fabra in Spain. Moreover, they are more adept at focusing on important information and are better at identifying misleading information.
- You are better at making decisions – Bilinguals are more likely to make rational decisions, according to a study from the University of Chicago. This is because they tend to reevaluate their choices in the second language and see whether their initial conclusions remain.
- You’re better at communicating your ideas – In learning a new language, you tend to focus on the mechanics of language, such as grammar, conjugations, and sentence structure. In turn, you tend to be more aware of language, and how it can be structured and manipulated in various ways. In addition, these skills make you a better communicator and a sharper editor and writer. People who know more than one language also develop better listening skills because they are skilled at identifying meaning from discreet sounds.
It’s not too late to learn a new language. In fact, research has shown that even adults, not just kids, are capable of learning new languages.
Read more news stories and studies on how the brain works by going to Brain.news.