How Does Learning a New Language Improve Your Memory?

New memory formation is akin to a seed that germinates in the ground. If the seed is not protected during its earliest stages of growth, then it will die off before it can take root. The factors that enable a new memory to grab hold in the matrix of your brain’s grey matter include practice and rehearsal, imagination and creative expression. Adequate deep sleep also ensures that a new memory becomes entrenched in your brain.

Learning a new language such as learning music, Spanish or a computer software program lets your brain better connect one part to another akin to a tree root that forms underground: the root has to find food, breathe and clean itself by spreading itself out.
Food for a new memory consists of attaching itself to your daily routine activities. For example, think about what you learned in language class then attach that new vocabulary to everyday activities like grocery shopping, driving a car, riding the bus, or getting a haircut. Then your new memory can find fertile ground within these everyday activities in which to take root.

Cultural experiences are a rich food for new memory and new language consolidation. Music and dance are particularly potent at helping new memories to attach to your brain. Music in particular has a way of lingering in your brain for the longest time. This is because musical rhythms mimic the rhythm and syncopation of the spoken language. When we listen to music, its sounds and rhythms transport any new language and memory of that language into the rhythm section of your brain where the new memory then gets stored for future reference.

Singing aloud nursery rhymes as a young child also helps to consolidate new memories. This is akin to the new roots of a tree that breathes. Singing, humming, speaking and even trying to speak a new language helps new memories breathe and grow. When you learn a new language, you learn how to say “Good morning, good afternoon, good night and everything in between.” By speaking these phrases regularly, new memory formation and consolidation can occur with ease.

Like a tree’s leaves, learning a new language can bear fruit. This fruit takes the form of an improved memory. Learning a new language requires that you listen to the difference between what you are saying and what the other person says. Comparing these two voices forces your brain to move back and forth in time and cross-reference the new language with your already established memories. This cross-referencing process stimulates the ‘fruit’ that is a stronger and more deeply entrenched memory.

Learning a new language forces your mind to create an image of that language in your mind. This creative process of visualization allows your brain to harmonize the new language vocabulary with preexisting memories and imprints the new language vocabulary within your brain in a way that is hard to do within any classroom. This creative task can yield tremendous personal satisfaction. One example is when I listen to Salsa music, I am transported back to the time when I visited the Dominican Republic. The words of Salsa music can now trigger those scenes and memories for me in a special way.

Perfecting the pronunciation of a new language is like pruning an overgrown tree branch. The attempt at refining your language technique helps to set your new memory on a more upright path towards its ultimate energy source – rehearsal, reviewing and re-experiencing the rush of excitement that all push the new memory deeper into your brain.
Combining a new language with other senses can also enhance your memory, particularly for that new language. Taste a fruit and then name it. Feel your skin and name that feeling. Gaze upon a beautiful sunset and name the colours that you behold. When you rehearse your new language skills while describing something, then the new language can become deeply entrenched into your memory.

“I can hardly wait to explore a new language to further expand and improve my memory.”

Dr. E. Grief

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