Hola. Bonjour. Ciao. Nǐ hǎo. Hej. Shalom.
Thinking of learning a new language, but not sure if it is possible or beneficial later in life? While most researchers agree that children can learn languages more easily than adults and that children are more likely to achieve fluency, that does not mean that there is any age in which you should say nyet to increasing your vocabulary in another tongue.
In fact, according to a study in Frontiers in Neuroscience, learning a foreign language could actually promote healthy aging. Researchers studied twenty-six older adults (59–79 years old) in Italy and divided them into two groups – 14 adults who spoke Italian and were enrolled in an English course for four months. The remaining 12 adults did not participate in a course. The study measured cognitive performance and brain functional connectivity. In the group that took the English language course, there was a significant improvement in global cognition and increased functional connectivity in various parts of the brain.
Additional research suggests being bilingual may also protect against cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. For example, a study published by Neurology of 211 people found that those who were bilingual were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 4.3 years later than those who only spoke one language. Additionally, bilingual study participants also reported the onset of symptoms 5.1 years later than those who were monolingual. While speaking two languages won’t prevent Alzheimer’s completely, postponing the onset of symptoms is meaningful. Interestingly, the researchers pointed out, is that at the time of the study there were no pharmacologic interventions that could delay Alzheimer’s as much as four to five years.
Additionally, research published in Annals of Neurology studied the cognitive abilities of over 800 participants who were first tested at age 11 in 1947 and then retested in 2008-2010. It found that being bilingual had a positive effect on cognition later in life, and importantly, this research includes those who acquired the second language as adults.
Learning another language is just one of the ways brains can stay healthy and active and having many opportunities for continued learning is one reason why some adults choose to live in retirement communities. One example of programming to support brain health can be found Brookdale Senior Living, which is offers a “Brain Fit” program as a component to maintaining an optimum life an overall well-being.
So, not only is it not too late to learn another language, doing so at any age might actually be one way to maintain brain health.
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