A Free and Easy Way to Wake Up Your Brain

Does this happen to you, too? Those ‘Keeping Your Brain Active and Healthy” ads and articles seem to pop up everywhere, and they always catch my attention. From our youth to our senior years, doing things to keep our brains working well is a very good plan.

One article that I read suggested that our brains could be more flexible and vital if we learn 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 I was hoping that perhaps I might even remember a bit of it. ‘Learn a new language and improve my brain.’ was my new motto.

I started searching language-learning ideas online. I was on a mission now. Find out how to learn a second language at a reasonable cost. After finding out that there was everything from ‘massively expensive’ to ‘free’ options, I finally ‘used a lifeline’ and asked a friend. She recommended Duolingo, a free app I could get in the app store. The price was perfect. I downloaded it, and I was off to learn French.

For those of you saying, “Oh, no. That would be hard!”, yes, of course. There are parts that are challenging. I am learning all new words for everyday things. And I have to learn new grammar (the order in which the words appear), because when I’m speaking in French, I have to put words in a different order. ‘John’s wife’ becomes ‘the wife of John’. Yes, it does take some work on my part.

But putting in that effort is what increases our brain health and power, I think. And since we each have only one brain, it seems to me that it’s worth the work I put in to give my brain this high-octane brain food. Here’s the really good news: I’m discovering it’s a lot of fun and very interesting, too.

Here’s my first discovery: What we name in a language, and how we talk about it, indicates how we think about it. Who knew? Expanding the ways we understand things surely would help wake up our brains. So I started looking for ways languages describe the same things differently.

My favorite example? When we talk about love. Oh, yes. In English, we say, ‘I love you.’ But have you noticed? It kind of sounds like, ‘I’m dropping my love on you.’ It’s all about me.

But in French, you say, ‘Je t’aime’, which is translated more as ‘I – you – love.’ To me, that is much more interactive. It says we have a relationship of love. That works for me! Much nicer than having ‘love’ dropped on me.

Of course both can work, and you can have a great relationship in any language. I was just thinking that maybe it might be easier to be ‘interactive’ if we were speaking in French. Maybe that’s why it’s called a ‘romance language’? I was intrigued, and I decided to find out more about this.

In Italian, another romance language, you say ‘I love you’ as ‘T’amo’. This translates as ‘You, I love.’ Nice, isn’t it? ‘You above all else I love.’ is a longer version of that concept.

As we used to say in my teenaged years, “Heavy!” Very meaningful. It might even expand how I am thinking about loving someone when they are the first part of our conversation about loving, instead of me, myself and I.

At this point, I was on a roll. I was having fun, and that made me want find out more about how English is different from other languages. And this interest was surely making my brain more active. That’s a win-win.

I started paying attention to the order of the words. As I’ve mentioned, I found out how the order of the words changes, as in ‘my dog’ in English is said as ‘the dog of me’ in French.

The order of the nouns (a person, place or thing) and the adjectives (describing words) change, too. You know how we say a ‘white house’ in English? That’s because if we are thinking in English, we have learned to first look at the color, the adjective, and then the object itself, the noun.

But I found out that in Spanish, for example, 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 in a different language, it helps me be more observant. I look at things both ways. Learning a new language provides such rich mental stimulation.

The fun I was having has caused me to add in a study of Spanish and Italian, too. It’s amazing. I’m slowly learning more and more, and still having a lot of fun.

Would you like to discover new ways to describe things? Are you interested in the amazing differences between languages? And how about engaging in a free and fun way to wake up your brain? If so, perhaps you might like to join me on this adventure. We can practice together.

Terry Turner
As a military brat, Terry’s early life was spent enjoying other countries and cultures. Add to this her forty years of teaching Communication Skills in both aerospace and education, and she has many ideas to share and stories to tell. Now happily retired and living in Northern California, she spends her time writing and enjoying life.
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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Common Sense says:

    Keeping the mind and body active is the difference between growing still and dying. Many kudos to you for exercising your mind and building new synapses-expanding your mind.

    Learning is a life long process…. if we want to keep our minds in optimal health.

    A very nice article.

  2. Avatar Karen Calanchini says:

    Loved this article, so fun! I grew up in my grandparents house, they came here for the Azores in Portugal. So my grandparents and mom and I all spoke Portuguese as I was growing up. Of course, I also spoke English to my mom, and other relatives and at school. So I was a bilingual kid, until junior high where I began learning Spanish and loved how similar it was to Portuguese. After 4 years of learning the language I was now speaking three languages!
    My grandparents passed away, and mom and I began speaking English only in our home….too bad. I married, and over the years I forgot the two languages from my youth and now, even English is not as perfect as it used to be. Looking back, I wish I had joined some sort of club (if there were any) where I could have retained my ability to speak Portuguese and Spanish. When I went to work at RPD, I found out they were looking for officers who spoke Spanish and other languages…oh how I would have loved to be a translator for them!
    How does one retain their ability to speak a language when there is no one to speak to anymore?

    • Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

      Karen, I started a Spanish group several years ago. We would get together and only speak Spanish. The group hasn’t been around for years because everyone had so many other commitments, but it was great. I find listening to Spanish radio stations and watching Telemundo help, but not enough.

      • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

        Oh, Joanne, How fabulous to have had the Spanish group. That was an excellent idea. You’re right about the TV and radio. I am so limited yet in my vocabulary that I tend to only recognize a word here and there. Now I’m wondering if there are online Spanish groups?

    • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

      Karen, I love your story of the languages you learned as you grew. How completely awesome to have been able to speak three languages.
      I love your idea of having a group where we could practice the languages. I’ve heard that once you have learned them as a child, it is easier to re-learn as an adult. Perhaps that conversation group would be something good to start.

  3. Avatar Justin Zalesny says:

    Duolingo (at least in Spanish, I’m not sure about the other languages) just added a feature where you read along with stories. They’re very entertaining and seem to be helpful in the learning process.

    Also, your article reminded me of the movie, “Arrival”. Which, by the way, is based on a short story by Ted Chiang who I think is just about the coolest sci-fi writer out there right now.

    • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

      Oh, Justin! That is great news. I’ll have to check that out. Thank you!

      I will have to check out the movie “Arrival”. Sounds intriguing. Thank you for the recommendation.:-)

  4. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Je t’aime…a bit presumptuous, no?

    I’m reminded by that of the love-lust language of Pepé Le Pew: “Mon Cherie, may I call you ‘Darling’? You may call me ‘Streetcar’ because of my desire for you.”

  5. Avatar Candace says:

    Steve, LOL , I love that line!

  6. Avatar Barbara Stone says:

    congrats, Terry, on taking on a new task! Oddly enough, I also have been thinking about learning a new language, the language of my ancestors ~ Polish! I have studied Italian and French so I have an understanding of the Romance languages. And I studied German for many years which has really different grammar: You start a sentence with the noun but the verb shows up at the end of the sentence. So to use the sentence I just wrote: You a sentence with the noun start but the verb at the end of the sentence shows up. And the Germans really love long sentences! So it can be a real cliffhanger waiting for the verb.

    • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

      Thank you, Barbara, for the congratulations. What a great idea to study the language of your ancestors – Polish! With the internet, it’s possible to find any language that you want to study. Go for it! 🙂

      I grimaced a bit at your right-on-target description of German. I studied Latin for two years in high school, and the grammatical structure appears to be very similar to German. The sentence goes on and on, and Then, Presto! the verb appears at the end. And boy, oh, boy did I have to learn grammar for Latin. Every noun, for example, had ten possible choices. You used a different word, depending on how it was used in the sentence, and whether or not it was plural. And let’s not even talk about the verbs. Good grief!
      After that, I developed an intense admiration for anyone who was a Latin scholar, and when I found out how similar German was, I felt that same admiration. English sure felt a lot easier after my Latin adventure. 🙂

  7. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Great article. What interests me is other languages have words for things that English does not. German’s schadenfreude and goppelganger are two such words. Some languages don’t differentiate between the brain and the mind. It’s also interesting to me that we marvel at the many different words for “snow” Eskimos have, while not blinking an eye at the many words we have for a horse. These include filly, foal, yearling, roan, stallion, mare and gelding. Languages are amazing! That you for the information about duolingo.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      My brother was in farm management for a number of years, and the crews were mostly Mexicans from rural areas of Mexico. Some of the items that they had no word for, they would adopt the English word. One that I recall was doorknob since they didn’t hsve doorknobs on their doors. Another was a combination of English and Spanish. “Fooling around” became fooliando.

      • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

        How interesting, Beverly! I never knew that about doorknobs.
        I imagine that adopting other words happening thousands of years ago as our ancestors traveled around the globe and met new people, and the languages mingled. That would have really been something. I still wonder how they decided (for some languages) what things would be feminine and what would be masculine. I’ll bet that’s quite a story, too!

    • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

      Thank you, Joanne! I have the same wonder as I learn other languages. When we have words that describe it, we tend to pay more attention to it, in my opinion.

      For example, I am fascinated by the fact that we have very few “middle” words in English. We tend to speak in opposites: high, low, medium. Easy, hard, medium. Rich, poor, middle class. Tall, short, medium. So if I think only in English, I tend to think in the opposite extremes.

      Our language surely seems to influence the way we think. 🙂

  8. Avatar Tim says:

    Schadenfreude is a great one. Some of my other favorites:

    lagom: just the right amount (Swedish)

    l’esprit d’escalier: literally “staircase wit” — when you think of a perfect retort much too late (French)

    jolie-laide: “beautiful ugly” — but figuratively more like “oddly beautiful.” When something/something is captivating because of a perceived flaw (French/Canadian)

    kilig: the romantic feeling of butterflies in your stomach (Tagalog)

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