Another language? Good for the brain, good for travel
Seniors who are bilingual and have spoken two or more languages since their youth may have cognitive advantages over adults who have only spoken one language their entire lives.
On top of that it gives them a leg up when traveling to foreign lands in their retirement years.
A new study headed by Brian Gold, a neuroscientist at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, which was published in the journal, Neuroscience, found that bilingualism leads to heightened mental skills.
In the study, participants were divided into three groups: bilingual seniors, monolingual seniors and younger adults. Each group was instructed to sort colors and shapes in a series of simple cognitive exercises. The researchers used a brain imaging technique to compare how well the subjects switched between mental tasks. The results indicated there were different patterns of brain activity among the groups when the tasks were being completed.
The patterns showed that bilingual seniors were able to switch between tasks and activate their brains in a manner closer to the younger subjects. They didn't have to expend much effort, and they out-performed their peers who were monolingual. The researchers surmised the bilingual seniors were using their brains more efficiently.
Other studies have shown bilingualism pays even more dividends, including improved cognitive function in those suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
A study titled, "Lifelong Bilingualism Maintains Neural Efficiency for Cognitive Control in Aging," found that even though seniors who spoke dual languages had more brain atrophy due to Alzheimer's, they were still able to function better than individuals with lower levels of atrophy who spoke one language.
Researchers believe that being bilingual strengthens the brain's capacity for doing work, even if it is working at a deficit.
Of course being able to speak another language besides the one they normally use also gives the added ability to communicate with others from around the world. While English is a language that is spoken all around the world, so are languages like French and German, and more and more various dialects of Chinese. And of course Spanish is helpful in many cultures, even in places in the United States.
However, the jury is still out as to whether learning a second language or moving to a foreign country as an adult can provide the same level of cognitive advantage as being bilingual from childhood. But learning a new language can help keep the brain sharp. Many experts now believe learning a second language is no harder when you're getting on in years than when you're a child.
There are different methods to learning a new language:
Foreign language tapes or DVDs.
Grammar/vocabulary books from a child's foreign language class.
Hiring a foreign language tutor.
Vocabulary index cards.
Moving to a foreign country and learning through immersion.
Bilingual seniors have distinct cognitive advantages over other people who are monolingual. Urging children to learn a new language or learning as an adult can have profound effects on mental abilities.