Learn a Foreign Language for Better Senior Mental Health

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Updated 9/8/17 4:00pm | Good senior health is important as you age in place with Alert1. You want to be strong in both physical and mental health. Exercising and eating well helps the former. The latter is a bit trickier.There are many studies that have analyzed the aging brain and its functions. Nothing is ever set or certain when it comes to staying mentally fit.

Aging comes with a slew of issues. A 2012 study found that adults aged 65 and over are less likely to receive mental health services in comparison to their younger counterparts.

Like a muscle, seniors should exercise their brains. And, like all exercise, it can come in many forms.

I offer one such form: learn a new language. There are several benefits, and the process of learning a language can be fun. The old adage “an old dog can’t learn new tricks” definitely does not apply in this case. 

Health Benefits to Learning a New Language

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You don’t need to be a diplomat or Noah Webster (of dictionary fame) to have a reason to learn a language. If senior mental health is our main concern, then learning a foreign language can definitely make a difference.

  • Brain cognition supplement. Cognition definitely takes a hit as you age. Studies have shown that learning a foreign language can improve senior cognitive abilities.
  • Dementia care plan. Dementia, and in its more famous form, Alzheimer's, challenges our thinking and reasoning ability. Studies have shown that bilingual folks have pushed the onset of dementia away by 4.5 years. That’s definitely a significant amount of time with your loved ones.

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Practical Benefits to Learning a New Language

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Beyond the health benefits, the practical benefits of learning a new language are just as alluring. Learning a new language can inspire you to travel while boosting your confidence. If that’s not a no-brainer, I don’t know what is. 

  • A large reason why people learn a foreign language is to travel. Try out your French on the Riviera. You’ll meet new people and build a senior network of global friends. On our journey in life we should never stop the learning. That’s when you have truly retired.
  • The process of constant repetition with a goal in mind builds confidence. The process may be challenging. You’ll be using prepositions that don’t make sense in a sentence. You will fumble at pronunciation. The key is understanding that this is all normal. Allow yourself to fumble and mess up. It’s part of the fun.

If at this point in life, you haven’t learned how laugh at yourself, now is as good a time as any to do so. With each new accomplishment, each new sentence formulated, seniors can sharpen their minds. 

How Do You Say “I love you” in French?

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How do you get started learning a new language? This list, though not exhaustive, is a start. The methods to learning a language do not have to be memorization. Read on and find what works best for you.

  • Language exchange. Use meetup.com or other online social networks for seniors to find a language group near you. It’s a lot of fun to practice learning a new language in a group of like-minded people.  
  • Community college courses. If you are not able to study on your own, take classes at your local community college. The group setting is ideal for practicing. The pace is brisk and not intensive. There are online courses through the school available as well.
  • Immersion programs. For seniors seeking worldwide travel, there are immersive programs abroad. This is an opportunity not only to surround yourself in a new language, but to progress at light speed in learning. 

‘Come Stai’ from Italy

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Just as you are deciding on your aging in place plan, decide how you will best learn your new language. This journey does not have to be a lonely one. Have fun learning how to pronounce the Estonian greeting tere hommikust with friends. For lefties, finally know what it feels like to write from right to left in Arabic without smudging the ink. Soon, your senior mental health exercise will be speaking in two different languages in one day. 

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