Didn't learn a second language as a kid? No worries. Here's why you might want to learn one anyway.

Believe it or not, before the 1960s, researchers thought children learning other languages was a handicap.

Wait. Seriously? Yep.


As educator Mia Nacamulli explains in the TED-Ed video below, bilingual kids have shown slower reaction times on some language tests. People back in the day made some hypotheses that that must mean it's a drawback for students.

But researchers now know that learning another language is actually an amazing way to keep your brain healthy.

It won't necessarily make you smarter, but Nacamulli points out it's now believed that being bilingual* exercises your brain and makes it stronger, more complex, and healthier. And if you're young, you get an added bonus.

*Fluently bilingual. Like, using it on a daily basis. Not just being able to remember — vaguely and many years after that one seventh-grade class — how to ask, "¿Dónde está el baño?"

What does being bilingual really do?

1. It changes the structure of your brain.

Researchers have observed being multilingual can visibly make the neurons and synapses in the brain's gray matter denser and spur more activity in other regions of the brain when using another language. Basically, it's a brain workout! And another neurological study notes the white matter in the brains of older lifelong bilinguals has a higher integrity compared to older monolinguals.

2. It strengthens your brain's abilities.

That gray matter up there contains all the neuronal cell bodies and stuff (that's a technical term) that controls your muscles, senses, memory, and — you guessed it — speech. Newer studies show that those slow reaction times and errors on language tests really reflect that the effort of switching between languages is beefing up the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — the part of yer noggin' that controls problem-solving, switching tasks, and focusing on important stuff while filtering out what's irrelevant.

3. It can help delay Alzheimer's and dementia by as much as four or five years.

Yes. Sí. Oui. When bilinguals are compared to monolinguals, that is. And although some cognitive research notes there's still a similar rate of decline after onset, more years of a super-strong brain is always a good thing.

Now, this fourth one gets a little bit nuts. Nacamulli says it's believed there's a key difference between a young bilingual person and someone who learns another language in adulthood.

4. There's a theory that children who are bilingual get to be emotionally bilingual.

The parts of the brain that are being strengthened while speaking multiple languages include not just the analytical and logical side of the brain but the emotional and social side as well.

It's called the critical period hypothesis.

GIF via TED-Ed.

The separation of the hemispheres increases as we grow up, so when you're a kid — the hypothesis holds — the two sides are a little more plastic and ready to work together while learning language. Nacamulli says this could be why children seem to get the contextual social and emotional nuances of other languages better than grown-ups who became multilingual later and instead often think ... well ... like grown-ups.

Speaking more than one language turns our brains into powerhouses, and it makes our children more emotionally intelligent!

It's definitely not a handicap. It's a superpower.

For more on the magical bilingual brain, TED-Ed has some great info!

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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One little girl took pictures of her school lunches. The Internet responded — and so did the school.

If you listened to traditional news media (and sometimes social media), you'd begin to think the Internet and technology are bad for kids. Or kids are bad for technology. Here's a fascinating alternative idea.

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Norton

This article originally appeared on 03.31.15

Kids can innovate, create, and imagine in ways that are fresh and inspiring — when we "allow" them to do so, anyway. Despite the tendency for parents to freak out because their kids are spending more and more time with technology in schools, and the tendency for schools themselves to set extremely restrictive limits on the usage of such technology, there's a solid argument for letting them be free to imagine and then make it happen.

It's not a stretch to say the kids in this video are on the cutting edge. Some of the results he talks about in the video at the bottom are quite impressive.

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