Have you heard of neuroplasticity? It’s a feature of our brains that allows the creation of new nerve cells and new connections. This means that when you exercise your brain by focusing on learning and memorizing new information, you’re building up your mental muscles, but there’s also a physical effect. A research study done recently at Northwestern University showed that these physical effects were very evident when people learned a second language. According to the researchers, being bilingual provides many advantages other than the ability to communicate better with more people.
For example, when the researchers measured nerve activity in the brains of bilingual and monolingual test subjects, they found that people who were bilingual were better able to focus on conversations even in very noisy surroundings. If you’re able to focus and ignore distractions, you’ll be able to speed read in any situation. If you can’t eliminate distractions from your environment, it’s harder to focus. Being bilingual gives you an internal focus that helps shield you from outside noise. That’s something that will be very useful for students trying to study for examinations in a crowded dormitory, or someone who’s trying to go over their reports while riding on a noisy commuter train.
You can combine speed reading practice with language learning by reading books in a second language. That way you’ll get better at the second language while making good reading habits automatic. The better you can read, the more quickly you’ll become fluent in that second language – and your bilingual brain will repay you by making you a better and more focused speed reader.
Reference: Krizman, J., Marian, V., Shook, A., Skoe, E., Kraus, N. Subcortical encoding of sound is enhanced in bilinguals and relates to executive function advantages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), April 2012.