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July 31, 2013
by Ashley Marie

Wednesday Wisdom: Bonjour! How many languages does your brain know?

July 31, 2013 03:00 by Ashley Marie



Learning to speak another language takes time and effort, but the benefits outweigh the costs.

A new language can grant you access to a new culture, open your mind to fascinating literature, allow you to explore a faraway city, and view the world from a different perspective.

By learning Portuguese, you can learn to dance to Bossa Nova like an authentic Brazilian. By learning German, you can let your heart be moved by Mozart’s Singspiele. By learning French, you can read through first editions of Rousseau’s political theories. By learning Japanese, you can learn how to make authentic sushi. With more than 6,000 languages to choose from, your options are endless. 

Studying a foreign language not only enriches the quality of your life; it also improves the quality of your brain.

Enhance Your Cognitive Skills

In today’s competitive job market, it is essential to maximize your brainpower. Not only is speaking a second language often an advantage in the marketplace, but it can also improve the quality of your thinking.

A study conducted at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine revealed that bilingual individuals could multitask faster than those who were monolingual.[1] Moreover, MRI scans showed that bilinguals used their brainpower more effectively.

This research involved senior citizens, thereby showing that bilingualism has long-term benefits. By actively switching between languages throughout their lives, bilinguals tend to develop better cognitive flexibility.

Researchers have also found that children in multilingual schools tend to perform better academically.[2] They even demonstrate a greater ease when studying music and math – both of which involve a new way of thinking, a new language

For therapists, this means that learning a second language can actually improve your ability to think through complex psychological issues.

Increase Your Sympathy

According to Lynch, multilingual children tend to display social sympathy before monolingual children.[2] This is because multilingual children come to understand differences in perspective faster. They learn that their Italian-speaking friend might see the world differently than their Spanish-speaking friend, because they recognize differences in communication and culture.

Moreover, multilingual children learn early on that they are not at the center of the world; rather, they are part of a complex society embedded with a multitude of tongues, expressions, dialects, cultural norms, and habits. 

When dealing with mental health issues, therapists need to sympathize with others, to be attentive listeners, and to try to understand where another person is coming from. The words someone chooses to tell his or her story are rich with meaning; they can help reveal his or her thought patterns, cultural heritage, and understanding of life.

We all have unique personal stories, and it is often a challenge to communicate our past and present to another person, especially to a complete stranger. As such, therapy sessions should provide an open space that allows a client to express himself or herself fully. Therapy should give birth to a constructive dialogue that helps a client in a profound way, so that they can face the challenges that lay before them. 

Engage with the 21st Century

Only 1 in 5 American students between Kindergarten and grade 12 study a second language at school.[3] However, it has become increasingly important to learn a language other than English.

So, which language should you learn? Below are three suggestions, but by no means are they the only languages to consider learning.  


French is the official language of 29 countries around the world, including, for instance, France, Canada, Switzerland, Senegal, Monaco, Luxembourg, Burundi, among many others. It is also the official language of the United Nations.[4] Especially for Canadian therapists, the French language can grant you access to a whole new demographic.


For American therapists, Spanish is a highly beneficial language to learn, especially for those who work in New Mexico, Texas, and California. Health professionals and social workers are often encouraged to learn Spanish, as it allows them to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients and clients[5]. Worldwide, there are 322 million people who speak Spanish. It is also the official language of 21 countries, such as Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Spain, Panama, Peru, and Mexico.

Chinese Mandarin

Chinese Mandarin ranks first as the most spoken language, with 837 million speakers worldwide. Though it is only the official language of three countries – China, Singapore, and Taiwan – it is spoken in cities across the globe. After English, Chinese is considered to be the most useful language for business.[6]

Learn a Language, Build Your Practice

Learning a second language is an enriching experience. And for a therapist, it can be a wise way to expand your practice. Consider the benefits of offering counseling in more than one language. As our world becomes increasingly globalized, multicultural, and multilingual, take advantage of the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new way of thinking, a new way of communicating, and a new way of doing therapy.  

[1] Bates, C. January 9, 2013. Très bien! Speaking two languages from childhood keeps brain in good shape as we age. [online] Available at: <>

[2] Kluger, J. April 23, 2013. Understanding How the Brain Speaks Two Languages. Time. [online] Available at: <>

[3] 21st Century Skills Map. Partnership for 21st Century Skills. [online] Available at: <>

[4] 2013. Want to Learn a Language? Here Are the Top 5 Choices. College Stats. [online] Available at: <>

[5] Crouse, D. 2013. Languages for Specific Purposes in the 21st Century. [online] Available at: <>

[6] Lauerman, J. August 30, 2011. Mandarin Chinese Most Useful Business Language After English. Bloomberg. [online] Available at: <>



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