Three Things to Know About – The benefits of learning another language

By Anne Riker Garlington

Dr. Sharon DiFino
Dr. Sharon DiFino

Do your new year’s resolutions include learning another language? Sharon DiFino, Ph.D., CCD-SLP, a clinical assistant professor in the department of speech, language, and hearing sciences at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions, knows the benefits firsthand. The director of the bilingual language access and outcomes lab, DiFino is fluent in German, Russian and Dutch with proficiency in French and Italian.

Inspired by the German, Austrian and Russian composers who wrote the violin music she played as a child, DiFino focused her studies on German and Russian languages, and taught Germanic studies on the UF faculty for more than 20 years before pursuing a career in speech-language pathology.

From improved understanding of other cultures to enhanced cognitive skills, DiFino describes some of the many advantages of learning a new language.

What are the benefits of learning another language?

It exercises the brain. Just like our body, when we learn another language or we engage in speaking more than one language, all the parts of the brain are involved, not just speaking, reading or listening. The entire cognitive system becomes activated.

You learn another culture. When you learn another language, you are also learning about the people, the food and beliefs within the culture. In the speech therapy field, understanding another’s culture can engender empathy and compassion, which is especially important when working with patients.

You gain another perspective. Learning another culture’s perspective helps you understand other people, including where they come from and their contributions to society. Clinical knowledge is important, but understanding others’ perspectives can help you be more effective. In addition, it can open potential opportunities for personal and career growth.

Is there any science on the  advantages to learning another language?

Learning a new language can contribute to building up our cognitive reserve, which is the idea that developing reserve thinking abilities can help to protect the brain. As with any part of our bodies, our brain ages as we do and must be worked and kept active.

These ideas are supported by a 2015 study, which indicates bilingual patients who experienced a stroke are more likely to regain their cognitive functions.

A 2007 study suggests that bilingualism can delay the onset of dementia by as much as four years.

According to a UF 2023 study, people who speak two or more languages have increased ability to ignore information that isn’t important and instead focus on the information that is important.

When is the best time to learn another language?

Bilinguals are categorized as people who learned both their first and second language before the ages of 9 to 12 and are still using both languages.

Although some say learning a new language when you are young is easier, anyone can learn at any time.

Thanks to technology, it is very feasible to learn a new language and you don’t have to go to that country. In addition to immersion programs, there are free apps, resources, websites and podcasts that can help, as well as watching foreign movies.

The important thing to remember is it is never too late to learn a language.