We’ve all heard the phrase ‘use it or lose it’ and you’ve probably read about the importance of keeping your brain active as you get older. But did you know that learning another language can help slow the impact of aging on your brain?
Bilingualism slows dementia
For the past few years, Ellen Bialystock (York University, Toronto) has been researching the effects of bilingualism on the brain and she’s uncovered some surprising facts.
On average, those people who speak another language develop Alzheimer’s three or four years later than those who only speak one.
Speaking another language improves your brain function
Speaking two or more languages forces your brain to work harder and perform more complex tasks, and scientists think that this helps protect the brain as it ages.
In fact, studies have shown that bilingual people have better developed ‘executive brain function’, performing better in attention tests and showing better concentration.
Does it matter if you learn a language later?
Bialystock’s research was focused on those who had been bilingual for a long time, but there’s a growing body of research that suggests that even learning a language in later life can benefit the brain.
But I’m no good at learning languages
If like me, you felt like a rabbit in the headlights every time your language teacher asked you a question, you might have left school believing you were no good at languages. But that’s not true.
Anyone can learn a new language and modern technology makes it easy to get started. And with so many different learning options to choose from, you’re bound to find a way that works for you.
But I haven’t timed to learning another language
Even if you only have 15 minutes daily, you can still make great strides and be talking fluently in a short time.
Try one of the methods below and learn on your daily commute, in the bath, waiting for a bus, when cooking dinner, or with your morning coffee. Carving out 15 minutes is easy when you put your mind to it.
Nowadays it’s simple to find audio courses to help you learn. There’s the classic audiobook approach where you listen and repeat, but there are also audio courses and podcasts that encourage independent speaking from the word go.
You might prefer to see and hear your new language in action. Sites like YouTube have hundreds of language resources for you to try and they’re easy to access on a smartphone or tablet so you can learn on the go.
There are also loads of websites where you can follow a language course. These often use a combination of listening exercises, videos, games, and quizzes to help you learn, so you’ll never get bored.
Practice speaking with others
Speaking with others will help you make progress really quickly and provide a support network if things get tough. Maybe you know someone who already speaks your new language and could help you practice? Or perhaps you have a friend who wants to learn alongside you?
But if you don’t know anyone, then don’t despair. The internet lets you interact with others in learning another language. Look around for online conversation classes where people can link up via Skype to practice speaking – you could find yourself with a whole new network of friends!
Language learning apps
Harness the power of technology to help you learning another language. There are dozens of apps devoted to language learning, ranging from interactive flashcard apps for practicing vocabulary and phrases, through to whole language courses.
Don’t give up
At first, it might seem as though you are just plodding along and not making much progress. But, like all things, if you persist and just do a little each day, in time you’ll suddenly find yourself feeling much more confident.
And who knows? One day you could find yourself planning a vacation where you can practice your language in its home environment.
So what are you waiting for? Remember, it’s never too late to learn, and you’ll be doing your brainpower of good.