Education: How Learning a New Language Can Boost Cognitive Intelligence

Of our 300+ Oxbridge mentors, u2 have tutors for European languages including French, Spanish, German, Greek, Italian and Portuguese, as well as fluent speakers in Mandarin, Arabic and Russian.

Despite declining A-Level entries for languages over the past decade, the Guardian and British Academy found that 70% of those students surveyed desired to learn a new language. u2's language mentors and linguistics specialists are well-placed to offer students the opportunity to learn a new language, particularly one that may not be offered in the school curriculum, outside of school time. Enquire with the Extra-Curricular Concierge for more details.

So Why Learn a New Language?

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Out of the world's approximately 7.5 billion inhabitants, 1.5 billion speak English — that's 20% of the Earth's population, and this figure rises to just over 50% if we only take Europe into consideration. For native English speakers, it could be asked, “What’s the point in learning another language, if English is everywhere?”.

Indeed, a large proportion of the British population have fallen into this trap - a survey ran by the British council revealed that the British are officially the worst language learners in Europe. Learning a foreign language is not a popular option at school in Britain, with children often only starting a foreign language at the age of 11 and many students giving up languages completely by 14.

There is a real problem with language learning in Britain, yet it goes unnoticed because we can so easily get away with relying on people from other countries being able to speak our language. However, there are endless benefits to learning a new language and we encourage our students to consider these:

Learning a new language enhances cognitive ability

Learning a foreign language is one of the most effective ways to increase intelligence and keep your mind sharp. It not only improves memory, but increases attention span, develops listening skills, problem solving skills and greater cognitive flexibility. Recent research even suggests that learning a new language (at any stage in life) can delay the onset of brain ageing, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.[1]

You don’t just learn a new language, you gain access to a new culture and modes of thinking

Language is closely linked to culture, which in turn is linked to thought. It is often the case that people from different countries think about concepts in different ways, which is expressed through their language - this explains why sometimes there is simply no direct translation. For example, something called an ‘ideophone’ appears in many languages across the world yet is very uncommon in Western languages. An ‘ideophone’ is a word that depicts the sight, sound, smell or feelings of a situation. For example, an ideophone in Mundari is “ribuy-tibuy” meaning ‘sight or sound of a fat person’s buttocks rubbing together as they walk’! Learning a new language can help you gain access to a culture that sees or thinks about concepts differently to what you’re used to.

Employers love foreign language speakers

To keep up with today’s rapidly increasing global economy, employers are increasingly on the lookout for people who can build personal and professional relationships with those from other countries. In the wake of Brexit this is important now more than ever given that we can expect to see British trade expanding to countries outside of Europe. Being able to speak a foreign language is becoming a progressively important and necessary skill for employees.

The Three C's

Learning a new language boosts your Creativity, Confidence, and Communication. Striking up a conversation with a stranger in English in itself can be difficult, let alone in another language, so coming away from having a great conversation in another language can often fill you with a huge burst of pride and sense of achievement, in turn providing you with a newfound confidence in your language skills. Language speakers also find that you have to be creative, thinking of ways to communicate what you want to say even though you may not know how say it, which hugely boosts your ability to communicate effectively.

Pursuing linguistics or languages to a higher level opens up opportunities at top universities such as Oxbridge or Ivy League Schools, enhances cognitive strength and boosts employability. At u2 we encourage students to explore as many extra-curricular opportunities as possible, to develop their academic ability beyond school curriculums and exam syllabuses. Get in touch for further information on the opportunities available.



By Sian Kelly, u2 mentor (Spanish and Linguistics, Oxford)