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Can language learning help depression?

Hello all,

I am a sufferer of depression, but lately i've been working to try 'turn my brain' back on, and doing more productive things with my day.

Duolingo really seems to help a lot. I can remember I once got a 9 day streak (pretty good for me!), during that time, most of my depressive symptoms were gone, and I was feeling really good about my day.

Engaging the brain in learning new words, rules, vocab, etc. really fires up the neurons in a healthy way. So much that you can really diminish a nasty depressive mindset.

What do you guys think? Has anyone else noticed the same thing?

Cheers :)

September 16, 2014



As a poor depressed guy myself I believe that not just language learning, but any activity that includes learning en practice will reduce depressive symptoms. During my depressions my learning capabilities are at its highest. And learning on the other hand puts my mind of things, and keeps me busy, so it's a win win!


Thank you for sharing such valuable insights. I too have noticed that working on a foreign language in Duolingo provides some surprising additional benefits. In my case, besides lifting my spirits (those lingo-ts work better than carrots!), it has also contributed to improving my piano playing. I also get a lot of chuckles when I go for my daily walk armed with the list of words I learnt that day (I keep a diary of my Duolingo modules), and I construct silly sentences of my own. Rocko2012 is right in advising to also include some physical exercise in order to continue improving your mood; our bodies were meant to move and to get some sunshine every day ;) Another element is good nutrition, of course, which you can integrate into your language learning by making grocery lists in your new foreign language, or finding recipes in your foreign language. Vegetables and fruits sound so very enticing and exotic with other names! Last but not least, I would invite you to play music or sing songs (karaoke in YouTube, etc.) in your foreign language; it is a great way to practice pronunciation and to learn new vocabulary. My apologies for the long post ... I hope it gives you new ideas to add to your Duolingo training. Keep healthy and all the best!


Thanks for sharing some good ideas, I might steal them if you don't mind ;)

Once I learn some more food words I'll try doing my grocery shopping list in french!


Glad to know you liked my suggestions, Eddiestrike -- they were meant for you. Bonne chance ... et bon appétit! ;)


Definitely! I'm doing alright at the moment, but I've been through periods of depression over the past couple of years. Learning a language has given me something to strive for, even when I didn't want to do anything else. Especially with Duolingo, which gives extra motivation with the streak of consecutive days.

But it's not just the learning aspect in itself. My main goal for learning another language is to be able to communicate with more people and learn from them. I can't really explain it, but this just seems so magical to me, and it opens so many doors. This hope and goal of being able to communicate with many other people around the world gave me something to live for even when everything else seemed hopeless.


Hola, Nicole! Me alegra saber que aprender idiomas te está ayudando a combatir la depresión. Si alguna vez quieres practicar español, agrégame a tu lista de amigos :) Que tengas un bonito día.


A lot of things with anti-depressant effects promote neurogenesis in the hippocampus. It is an area of the brain also important for learning. I think it is totally plausible that it could improve your mood. Be sure to add exercise to the routine too.


They said recently learning a 2nd language can help with dementia prevention, so it's not so far fetched to believe it could help depression too. :)


I have depression too and I think language learning helps a lot. It helps so much to have a goal and meet it. It's unbelievable how much that helps. To feel... accomplished. Plus, it is a great distraction without making you feel like you did nothing. Often I will watch TV to distract myself and then feel worse because I wasted the whole day, but learning German is the opposite. I can spend hours on it and not feel like I threw the day away yet again. I liked what Khantuta said about making grocery lists in your foreign language. I will definitely be doing that to try and get myself more interested in food. Thank you for posting this! One of THE most helpful things is knowing that it is a shared struggle and I'm not alone.


You are definitely not alone. :)


Thank you for sharing, Malinda! You are absolutely right -- learning a language is a very constructive way to escape reality when you need it. My guilt-free TV watching: choosing series and movies in my foreign language! I find them on YouTube and Netflix. Last but not least, did you know that your name sounds closely to "More Beautiful" in Spanish (i.e. "más linda")? Here is hoping that you keep well, busy with your German and more beautiful every day! :)


It depends on the depression, but I have depression and it helps. When you're learning you're "In the moment" which gives you a lot less time for your brain to make you worry about the future, stew over the past, or deprecate yourself. And it gives you a chance to say "I accomplished something today" which depressed brains never let you think you have when you let them loose. :(

In a HS psychology course one thing we were taught to help combat depression, which I find very useful, is to keep a list of what you have accomplished. That way when your brain tries to convince you you don't do anything productive you can see you have done things. So like, I have a whiteboard in my room and I keep a list of things I have accomplished that day. It helps :) Without it I could be on DuoLingo all day and be like "But it doesn't matter, because you didn't study any math today." But with it I can remember I studied Spanish, French, German, and Mandarin. Same if I go on a Khan Academy kick and don't touch languages for a day.


Thank you for sharing, Sarah. Keeping a board is a great idea! I think it could benefit anyone, whether you have depression or not. Maybe it could also include positive thoughts/observations? For example: "Acquired 20 new words in Spanish and felt very proud!" or "Spotting a new beautiful flower in my garden made me smile". I believe that our immediate environment is key to trigger positive thoughts, so I strive to keep my home pretty and tidy, but a board is actually a more organic, personal and fun way to keep a positive frame of mind. Thank you again for your suggestion. Keep well and have fun with your impressive collection of foreign languages! ;)


I am a nurse. I do NOT suffer from depression and in all of my years, I have never heard this or if I did, it wasn't in the context of learning a language. I LOVE this thread. Thank you for sharing and helping me to understand this a tiny bit further.

Depression always seems a bit mysterious to me so I am glad to read what so many folks do to help them. The insight you've all provided is very enlightening.



I'm not going through depression now so I can't speak for that but I do have some cognitive issues (among other things) that I've been struggling with my whole life. I've noticed some improvement on some of these problems too since using duo.

I guess I can't really know for sure if it's an actual causation but I think being more aware of grammar in an intuitive analytical way has kind of exercised my brain in a way I just couldn't before (however finding words in english is getting harder I think :P ).

TL;DR : I think language learning can be good for depression & mental health/functioning in general


Wow. I have suffered from depression in the past and I never thought of it that way. It would depend on the severity of your depression and what is exactly causing it. When I was going through my depression, I was in the process of learning English (my second language). It felt good to be able to speak in another language, but I don't think it helped improve my depression. The reason for that being that the cause behind my depression was an external situation that no amount of language learning would fix. Now, it can definitely help with mood and self esteem. To focus all of your energy into something like this and seeing the rewards after all that hard work is amazing! Gives you purpose and keeps your mind occupied. Accomplishments definitely help with depression. I am glad that it's helping you overcome it :).


You accomplished well with your English


Thank you :). Music and tv are good tools to make the new language's words "stick" into the brain. Stay strong and keep your mind active (that way the negative thoughts won't be able to get in)! ^_^.


a twinkle in your eye and a song in your heart


I think it does. I suffer from a lesser known type of ADD called Slow Cognitive Tempo. This comes with something like depression as well. Learning Spanish has been amazing for me. Though I am not sure if it is because with my ADD I tend to latch on the things and become obsessed, or if it really has lit a fire under me. Either way, I haven't had a depressive episode since I started learning, and for me, that is really good. (should be noted that I also started meditating not long before that so who knows)


Yes I think it can help and I say it again stay strong.



I guess that the streak helps a big deal in my case. It gives kind of an "obligatory" aspect to the learning, which is something I so desperately need. You know, "one more thing to do". A push. And the fact that I actually learn, gain something thanks to it, it's kind of a bonus, something to lift my spirits. But most of all, I just really need to know that I still have something to do. Paradoxically, I never feel as free as when I'm tangled up in obligations. They keep my mind occupied, not letting any depressive thoughts in.

It's a neverending running away, throwing obstacles under its feet, building a shield of occupations so as not to get myself caught.

Thank you for this post. And thanks for the comments as well. They helped me realize how different and yet similar our experiences are. Stay strong. <3


Don't know who first wrote it, but I have always cherished this definition of happiness: Something to do, something (or someone) to love, something to hope for. I always strive to have all three in place in my life.


Very well said, Carnini! Thank you for your posting. We are, indeed, very different but learning here in Duolingo is evidently a shared experience that is adding very much to our daily lives. Long live Duolingo and its great communities of users! Keep that shiny streak going, and all the best.


Due to both. Learning a foreign language help you to boost your confidence. It will be aid to cure the depression permanently. Good luck


You're right man, knowing that I might one day be able to speak a little french definitely boosts my confidence.


Yah. just continue whatya doin


Short answer: yes, I have had a similar experience. Cheers to you! Congrats on outdoing the black dog! Keep it up and get well :)


I am not suffering from depression ,but I am sure it is not a good feeling.


I think you are right about what learn another language is really healthy for our brain and positive way to get depression off of your mind. Congratulations.


You might find this article by Sal Khan of the Khan Academy interesting: https://www.khanacademy.org/about/blog/post/95208400815/the-learning-myth-why-ill-never-tell-my-son-hes
If the link doesn't show properly on this post, try Googling "Why I'll never tell my son he is smart". He talks about the benefits of engaging the brain and firing up the neurons.


Thanks for posting this, interesting stuff!


I think that any mental activity that keeps the mind from being over-bored without getting to stressed keeps away illness like depression. Learning languages I think help strengthen mental health.


I too have noticed changes in my depressional state (not that it is serious). I believe it's because I have people encouraging me in language learning and that there isn't time to actually think negatively about life, people, etc.


I believe a part of depression is not finding the connections in this world that we yearn for. I think learning something new allows us to connect with ourselves.


I couldn't agree more. Learning a language unites your own self behind a unified set of principles, and it also instantly connects you to every other person who speaks that language on the planet.


I am studying linguistics in college for the simple fact that language touches the deepest parts of what it means to be human. It defines what we are and what we have the potential to become. Depression makes you feel less than the divine and remarkable creature you are, and language, along with other things like music and art remind us that we are expressive, creative, and worth infinitely more than what our own minds sometimes tell us. Language invites us to become our true self.


Learning new skills in general makes people feel better. Mindlessly surfing the web and watching endless hours of TV does the exact opposite.

So glad you're doing well!


I don't know of anything about language learning that would make me confident it's specific to languages, but I think it does help. It gives you the ability to go through each day knowing that you have achieved at least one thing if you kept your streak going, for example. It also helps to keep your mind active.


Careful not to base your happiness on the streak or you could feel down if someday you were so busy that you were unable to keep it. I think the streak is a great motivator, but it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Some days there are other things that need to be done that just might be as important or more important. So long as you know how to come back to whatever you are learning, that is more important than a temporary lapse. Take the time to smell the flowers! Enjoy whatever you can! I love duolingo and learning is my favorite thing to do, but I have to get fresh air, some healthy food and move a little, more when I can.


Run as fast as you can every day for at least 10 min. High-intensity cardio is the number one thing on this planet to shake you out of depression. It hurts like hell while you do it but afterward the rush is incredible. Also, heavy weightlifting will increase testosterone which will positively affect every aspect of your life.


walking, talking

eating chocolate


engage neighbours

look upwards

falcons swoop

look down

children crawl

we are alive


dance, cry and pause

clouds pass us by

as earth takes us closer

to wherever

we were created


Jack, you are becoming my favourite poet! This was an inspiration.


:') Beautiful poem, you should publish a book of poetry. :)


That was beautiful bro


thank you ..... Some Lingots


I loved it too, but I don't need any lingots. Thank you!


I live with depression and I love Duolingo. But, it has not been a cure for me. (It has certainly been a source of accomplishment though!) It just means that when my depressive episode has passed I have a wonderful community to return to and a course I can once again enjoy. :D

I just wanted to clarify for those who don't have depression or don't understand it, depression is not a mindset. It is a disease that affects the brain organ that can make it impossible to engage in certain activities or to feel various levels of enjoyment, motivation, energy, and cognition depending on the level of chemical impact it is having on one's physiology. :)


I began learning languages to distract myself from my depression. That was seven years ago. I still suffer from it, and Duolingo does help me (along with therapy, medication, family, and friends). I consider language learning to be a part of my identity, and I really feel myself when I learn a new word or phrase. It fills me with the energy of knowing something that I didn't know before. Learning is a wonderful feeling, to say the least. Just knowing there's so little you know and so much you can learn about anything--you could live a thousand years and just barely scratch the surface of all there is to know.

Languages are brilliant because they are all-encompassing. When you learn a language, you can practice it to learn about the different culture's perspective on science, politics, cooking, or whatever you'd like. There are no limits. When you learn another language, you build a new self along with it. It is really a weird experience--there's no other way to describe it--but it can be just what you need when you need it most.


That last paragraph almost made me cry. Building a new self. :)


So much love in this thread :)


Thank you for such wise observations! It beautifully depicts what language learning represents for so many of us -- a chance to look at the world through new eyes. I hope to read more of your postings in a near future. All the best to you!


Thanks once again for all your work on here. I am so impressed with the Norwegian course.


Actually I have been sort of depressed in the past although it is not a label I really want to put on myself. There are many people that have had much worse depression than what I had. (Which was partly an unrequited love thing).

I found Duolingo through a depression forum I briefly posted on. That particular forum was very depressing as you may imagine a forum of miserable people to be. One poster mentioned this website and I have been going on here ever since. I am very glad I made the decision to never visit that forum again. forums like those didn't help me and it just makes you more depressed if anything.

I think the most important thing in a situation like yours is to keep the brain occupied. it is like whenever I am at work, I am too busy to think of all the things that get me down. Whenever I am on Duo I am trying to get to the next level or whatever and I am also learning a new skill which makes things better. Keeping busy is very important

I am still ocassionally depressed about certain things but generally I don't feel as bad as I did a couple of years ago. Duo may have helped a little, I'm not sure. But learning a language, even if it is in a small way can make you feel good about yourself and help you start viewing yourself in a positive way. It is awesome that Duo is helping you, whatever helps must be good!


I know how you feel, during the last months of 2012, I too was suffering from a depression. But remember, everything is going to be all right some day. It's two years later now, and now I'm following the most beautiful training I could've ever wished for, I have the most awesome classmates, I've lost a lot of weight and I discovered Duolingo! So, don't forget, don't give up, everything's going to be all right... ;)


I think it can work too


It's great that Duolingo works for you. I find that it helps somewhat. To have the power to improve an aspect of my everyday life is useful. Not reading criticisms and down votes really improved how I felt about using Duolingo.

Keep up the good work!

Have you tried the double or nothing option in the lingot store? An added incentive for keeping ones streak going :-)


Hei there!

This is my first post on Duolingo :) I agree with you guys!Learning new languages helps! Last period of time was difficult for me! Many work changes in life that I felt sa bit depressed , not alive! Now I have uderstood that life is like learning...It needs time to accommplish your goals ! So.... I'm so happy to have discovered this website^^ My next language challenge will be German! Who is learning this beautiful language?


Yes, any challenge is good. Any structure in your life is good, such as 1 lesson per day......

Any accomplishment is good.

You can say goodbye to the past you and keep stepping into a whole new world every day.

Good luck, friend.


Hi Eddie, I think you all have great stories here. I too have seen that learning a language can lift your spirit and drastically change your mood. I have been using Mondly French for a while and I actually saw a piece on fighting depression written by Chris Broholm, from Actualfluency, which helped a lot - http://blog.mondlylanguages.com/fought-depression-bylearning-language/


Any news? Have you got better?


I've found out that Duo only palliates the waves of my misery, but not cures.


Honestly, going through a depression means having chronically a very negative mindset so I think that if you are depressed, learning a language can have a kind of "nocebo effect" most of the time as you can't really focus on your learning which will give you quickly many new negative thoughts and then being like "oh my God, I can't even learn those simple words, it must mean that I'm a good-for-nothing, so why bother keeping on, I'd better give up on it" and all these stuffs. That said, it can be a kind of hit-or-miss thing as focusing on something else might take your negative mood away and then starting a new placebo effect. So in my opinion, it depends on how deep your depression is, if you're curing it or not and how you cure it.


I don't have depression, but I do have occasional sadness. I mainly overcome it with friends and my main hobby, gaming. I have found that learning ANYTHING helps. I believe it is because we feel our work is paying off and it releases dopamine, causing us to feel better.


my therapist was really excited about my duolingo and even apologized for not advising me to do so earlier. ive been doing it for nearly 3 years and it appears to help. warning if you lose a long streak it can be very depressing just get right back to it as soon as possible :)


Learn English with Monty Python, makes you appreciate parrots.


I really struggle with Spanish. I failed the 5th grade with it up to high school. And then passed two years at high school but am in the process of taking my second semester in college. I'm actually struggling with it so much this semester that I've had to give up everything. Movies/writing/reading, I talk to a friend on the phone once a week if I can. Spanish actually makes me really depressed and it always has, it's just gotten worse. So I guess it depends on the person and your reasons for pursuing it. I'm just trying to learn it to get my associates degree which means a lot of Tu Mundo, I actually did well with Doulingo and youtube lessons on there own. But ya, idk. I'd say if your doing it at your own case it could be. But I would stay away from Spanish courses.

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