SINCE I’M LEARNING Turkish as a third language, I found myself improving very fast in a very short time. In less than a month, I became able to speak, understand, read and write the basic words, numbers, and most common sentences in Turkish. Now, I can keep up with my favorite Turkish TV series without having to look at the screen to read the Arabic subtitles! -And to be honest, that was all wanted first–. Now that I can study and watch TV series, I’m saving more time too!
But I also found it interesting in another way. The process in which my brain is working to manage studying in English, listening to Turkish, and looking to Arabic subtitles when needed! All at once. My brain is shifting from three languages, analyzing, and translating different data to an understandable version of meanings. It is fascinating to see how our brains are capable to work more than what we think, and faster!
My dear friend Elon Newstrom, who writes the Brain Food column, once told me to start learning a third language, since I already learned a second one which is English. And he explained to me how our brains get used to the process of learning, so that learning a third language will become much easier and faster than learning the second one.
I didn’t know how much easier it would be until I started learning Turkish! And Now, I’m here to tell you that what Elon has told me is totally true. It worked perfectly for me, and I really want to tell you what Elon has told me: Start learning a third language and you will be surprised by how fast you’ll learn.
Besides its easiness, it’s quite significant to learn other languages. “Speaking different languages means you get different frames, different metaphors, and also you’re learning the culture of the language so you get not only different words, but different types of words,” says George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley.
Every language you learn will open up a new window for you to see the world differently, and it will allow you to discover new areas within yourself that you’ve never thought about. It will also give you an outsider’s perspective about your own culture.
Let’s think about it this way, every foreign language is a new perspective, every word it has will add up to your vision, and every letter is one of the small details that can be seen when staring at an art painting. We don’t always get to understand what an artist means by a piece of visual art or painting, but once we do, it opens up new way that we can look at art feel it.
Does it mean that people who learn other languages are smart, or they are becoming smarter because of it? Does it mean that they have strong memories to be able to do so? Or their memories are getting stronger? Studies show that learning a third language isn’t easier because bilinguals have stronger memories than monolingual, but because they have trained their brains to work efficiently. They learned how to learn.
If you’re reading this column, English is either your first or second language. Eighty per cent of the population in Canada reported speaking an additional language besides English. If you are one of those 80 per cent, it might be the time for you to choose your third language.
And if you are one of the 20 per cent who speak English only, it might be a good idea to take a step forward and start learning another language.
It’s been found that people who learn a second language, even in adulthood, can better avoid cognitive decline in old age. Moreover, bilinguals who come down with dementia and Alzheimer’s do so about four-and-a-half years later than monolinguals.
More recently and perhaps more interestingly, learning a foreign language can increase the size of your brain. This is what Swedish scientists discovered when they used brain scans to monitor what happens when someone learns a second language.
Benefits doesn’t stop here, it’s been proved that multi-linguals also tend to score better on standardized tests, like in math, reading, and vocabulary; they are better at remembering lists or sequences, they are more perceptive to their surroundings and therefore better at focusing in on important information while weeding out misleading information.
Choosing the language you want to learn is an important step here. I chose Turkish for many reasons — besides learning it to understand Turkish shows — the Turkish language has a lot of Arabic words written in English letters, since the Turkish alphabet is derived from the Latin alphabet too. Pronunciation is in Arabic, spelling is in English. Couldn’t be more interesting!
Everyone has their own unique reasons for wanting to learn another language. It could be travelling to that country in which that language is spoken, having more job opportunities, become a better learner, or even just to watch your favorite show freely, no matter what your intentions are, the second you’ll start learning a foreign language, you’ll be rewarded with even more than what you’re expecting.
Nada Alsalahi is a Saudi Arabian student enrolled in the Journalism program at Thompson Rivers University.