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How language learning can support your mental health

How language learning can support your mental health

Positive mental health is essential to well-being and leading a happy, fulfilling life. It enables you to focus at work and study, maintain healthy relationships, and tackle new things with confidence. Mental illness is common, with one in five adults in the U.S. living with it in some form. That number jumps to around one in three when looking at young people aged 18-25.

We know that things such as exercise, quality sleep, socialization, and healthy eating are all ways to promote positive mental health. But did you know that learning a language can also give your mental health a regular dose of positive energy?

Let’s take a look at how language learning can support your mental health.

Boost your brain health

Researchers have found that speaking a second language actually increases your brain size. Being able to speak two languages can help you focus and filter out irrelevant information, a great tool when it comes to reducing anxiety. Switching between languages makes your brain more flexible and more able to prioritize easily. It’s also a great workout for your brain. Speaking, listening, and responding in another language really get your brain cells firing, leading to increased neural connections and improved overall brain health.

Find a state of flow

Studies have found that achieving a ‘state of flow’ is a big driver of happiness. Entering a state of flow occurs when you are so engrossed in something that everything else melts away and time flies by. In the short term, flow produces positive emotions, while long-term benefits can help you live a happier, more satisfying life. 

The key is finding a sweet spot between challenging yourself to improve and using your existing skills. If the task is too easy or too challenging, you won’t find your rhythm.

Learning a language is a great way to find flow. With so many language courses, books, podcasts, and native speakers, you’re never going to run out of a new challenge to immerse yourself in. Plus, it’s easy to track your improvement and continually build on your existing skills.

Social connections

Social connection is key to overcoming feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can be detrimental to mental health. Learning a new language opens you up to a whole new world of socializing. You could meet people with similar interests in language classes, find a conversation exchange partner, or make new friends from around the world on a study abroad trip. Plus, with your new language skills, think of the millions of people you can now communicate with. 

Improve your confidence

When you’re feeling down, chances are your confidence is low and everything feels “too hard”. Language learning is a fantastic way to overcome this negative state. Even just learning a few phrases in a new language proves that you are capable. And, when you’re ready, holding a conversation with someone in a foreign language is guaranteed to be a huge boost to your self-esteem.

Cultural understanding

Sometimes the news can make it seem like the world is all doom and gloom. Immersing yourself in a new language and its culture can broaden your perspective and increase your empathy towards others. It will help you better understand and relate to others and help you see the world from another point of view. Understanding and caring pave the way to connection.

Helping others through language

Get that ‘helper's high’ feeling by helping someone learn your native language. Consider meeting another language learner who speaks your target language and forming a language exchange. It’s pretty simple. Half the time you both speak in your native language, let’s say it’s English, and they get to practice their English. Then for the second half, you could switch to their native language, let’s say French, and you get to practice your French. You’ll feel great helping someone else improve their language skills, while simultaneously improving yours.

Positive distractions

Language learning offers a great healthy distraction from negative thoughts and stress. It allows you to focus on a positive activity, away from social media doom scrolling or day-to-day frustrations, and work on something challenging yet enjoyable. If you don’t feel up for coursework, simply watching a TV show or listening to music or podcasts in your target language is a great way to learn while allowing your mind to refocus.

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