How Learning French Can Make You Measurably Smarter

How Learning French Can Make You Measurably Smarter

Everybody knows that kids learn languages easily, and sometimes, you might think that putting in the time to become conversationally fluent in a language as a young adult is just too much effort.

Well, we’re here to tell you that getting your best chance at fluency is not only possible, but it’s proven to pay off in the long run. Learning a second language at any age can actually make you measurably smarter. Science magazine writer Yudhijit Bhattacharjee wrote in a piece for the New York Times Sunday Review that learning a language, “can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language.” But what kind of positive effects does learning French have on your brain and on your intelligence?

Your test scores are higher

Studying a new language helps you see your native language in a new light – by comparing and contrasting sentence structure and grammar, you can develop new neurological pathways through problem solving. Learning a second language is more of a cognitive than linguistic activity. And, when we take a look at standardized test scores, the advantage becomes all the more apparent.

According to the College Board, the average American student who only studies English will score approximately 500 on the verbal section of the SAT.

Students who study French in high school score an average of 630 points on the SAT.

Let’s let that sit for a second…that’s 130 points higher, on average! And the stats are consistent, year after year. Research also shows that learning a foreign language positively influences mathematical skill development as well, particularly in the problem solving area, and students who study a foreign language systematically outperform their non-foreign language learning peers.

With each additional year of foreign language instruction taken, a student’s scores on college and graduate school entrance exams such as the SATs, ACTs, GREs, MCATs, and LSATs improve incrementally.

Your brain works better, longer

Still believe that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Wrong again. A study of retired people doing an intensive language course yielded improvements outside of just linguistics. After just a week of intensive linguistic coursework, they were tested against the control group, other active retired individuals who were taking courses in another subject matter.

Those in the language course had increased brain activity compared to the control group, shared Antonella Sorace of the University of Edinburgh. Still other studies show that those who speak a foreign language show symptoms of dementia anywhere from four to five years later, compared to those who speak only one language.

You’re more detail-oriented

Ok, so what do we owe this increase in brain power? It’s actually pretty simple – those who speak more than one language pay more attention to detail. This may not seem like much, but paying more attention to detail clearly exercises important parts of our brains. And we exercise this part of our brain every single time that we speak. Cognitively, multilinguals have to consciously inhibit one language while using another – and it’s a lot more work. That means that part of the brain responsible for inhibiting unnecessary data is stronger. Those studying a second language systemetically perform better on tests that require multitasking, weeding through data, or extracting the most important aspects of a given task.  

So there you have it, learning French can actually make you smarter! Check back next week for the next installment of the series and for even more reasons learning French is a great idea.


Further Reading