Parlez-vous Français?

Have you noticed those ads on brain health? They are on television, on social media, and well, pretty much everywhere. And they always catch my attention. No matter your age, doesn’t having a top-notch functioning brain sound like an excellent plan?

Several different authors have suggested that our brains would be more flexible and vital if we learned a second language. Hmm. I decided that had possibilities. I had taken two years of French in high school, back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, and perhaps I might even remember a bit of it.

So I started searching online. I was on a mission now. Find out how to learn a second language and improve my brain. I asked a friend, who recommended Duolingo, a free language-learning app. I downloaded it, and I was off to learn French.

For those of you saying, “Oh, no. That would be hard!”, yes, of course. It takes practice and some work. But putting in that effort is what increases our brain health and power. Sounds like a winner to me. And I’m discovering it’s very interesting, too. Here are some examples:

I started noticing what we don’t have words for in English. Did you notice that we are a bipolar language? In other words, we tend to speak most often in opposites. In my opinion, we have very few words to describe something that is in the middle.

For example, if I say something is ‘hot’, the opposite word is ‘cold’. The middle word to describe halfway between hot and cold is ‘warm’. But having that middle word is a rarity. Would you like to have some fun with this?

Read each word in the list here, then say the opposite word (like hot/cold), and then the word that describes halfway between each (warm).

  1. Difficult; 2. Rich; 3. Open; 4. Success.

Isn’t that something? The opposite words are easy. But in English, to describe something in the middle, we find ourselves saying some version of ‘average’, ‘medium’ or ‘middle’, or having to use one of the opposite words as in “halfway open”. So if we are speaking only in English, we tend to speak in opposites.

Doesn’t it seem that this could affect how we perceive people and situations? As an example, let’s say we’re dating someone. He’s not the most handsome person ever. But he’s absolutely not ugly either. What is he? Hmm…. But if we say ‘He’s average.’, it sounds a bit negative. So, I guess I would look for something that is a really ‘great’ characteristic, like “He’s got a great personality.”

And that made me want to learn more about how language can change the way we describe things. I found a YouTube ‘Ted Talk’ clip about speaking in Chinese. The speaker said it’s easier to save money if you speak about it in Chinese. That caught my interest. Turns out, according to him, in Chinese, you aren’t able to say ‘some day’ about saving money. If you talk about it, the Chinese language structure indicates it is happening right now. Wow! Wouldn’t that make it easier to get myself in gear if I said, “I am saving money right this minute.”?

As you can tell, I was intrigued by how languages can be so different, and I’m still only scratching the surface. For example. another difference between languages is that sometime nouns (You know – the name of a person, place or thing.) have gender. Yes! And I wonder how that started and who decided which gender something is.

In French, for example, apples are feminine. ‘la pomme’. But dogs are masculine. ‘le chien’. That wakes up my brain. And now I’m looking forward to finding out how you indicate that your particular dog is a girl. That will be helpful to know in conversation.

As I studied, I had to learn a new order for the words in a sentence. ‘My dog’ in English is said as ‘the dog of me’ in French.

And you know how we say a ‘white house’ in English? If we think in English, we first look at the color, and then the object itself.

But I found out that in Spanish, we say ‘Casa blanca’. First we focus on the object, the house, and then we describe the color. I never thought of that before. So if I’m speaking a different language, it helps me be more observant. I look at things in both ways. Who knew that a new language could provide such rich brain food?

The more I learn, the more interesting it becomes. I suspect that learning all these new things are what the authors of those article meant about improving our brains. Studying a new way to talk helps our brains stay more active and elastic.

What I have noticed personally is that since I have been spending about twenty minutes a day on this, my brain does seem more alert. That’s priceless. Perhaps it is a complete coincidence, or perhaps it’s because I’m stretching myself, and using my brain to learn something new. And because learning French is so much fun, I’ve added in Spanish and Italian, too.

So if this seems interesting and fun to you, perhaps, you, too, might enjoy learning a new language. And we could practice together. Parlez-vous français? Do you speak French?

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