The Brain Boosting Benefits of Learning a New Language

The Brain Boosting Benefits of Learning a New Language

Many of us remember being required to learn a foreign language in high school. French and Spanish were quite popular, but some schools offered Russian, German, Latin and Italian. It was a novelty to learn the basics of conversing in a foreign language.

And if you’re like most of us, you completely forgot the majority of what you learned only a few years later. Today, you might remember how to say “hello” or “goodbye” in that language you studied, but anything more than that might be a stretch. Wouldn’t it be nice to get it back?

According to language-learning site Ling, only 23% of Americans speak a second language. And among those who want to learn a second language, their first choice tends to be Spanish, followed by Korean, French, and Japanese.1

If you’ve ever wanted to travel abroad to a country where you don’t speak the native language, it might be tough. Though using a guidebook or a translation app as you venture through the country might help quite a bit, there’s nothing as rewarding as being able to converse with someone in their language. When in Rome, as they say!

There are many benefits of learning a new language as a senior. A big barrier lies in believing that it’s just too hard to start learning, or too difficult to keep up with it, but once you start, you might be surprised by just how well it goes and how much of a new language you can soak up!

The Benefits of Learning a New Language

There are many reasons for learning a new language that go well beyond being able to order a latte in Italy or ask for directions in Spain. For elderly adults, learning a second language (or a third, or a fourth) can boost your brainpower. Here are some of the good reasons to jump in right now.

·        Learning a new language boosts cognitive ability. The mind needs to be challenged to stay healthy and sharp. New languages challenge your memory and cognitive function. The more you study and learn, the more the neurons on your brain find new ways to connect and work together.2 Over time, those connections can help your brain bypass the neurons that aren’t functioning quite as well and build stronger connections with those that are.

·        It might delay cognitive decline. A meta-analysis of studies by York University found that the onset of Alzheimer’s was delayed by up to five years in those who were bilingual.3 The boost in neuroplasticity might be the cause of this. And keep in mind that the better your brain works, the lower your fall risk becomes. (If falling is a concern for you, it pays to get the peace of mind of a medical alert system with fall detection.)

·        Enhanced travel experiences. If you are going to visit somewhere and don’t know the local language, now is the time to start learning! The more you know about the language others in the country speak, the easier you will be able to communicate and the better time you will have. Though you can opt for translation apps or guidebooks or even tour guides who serve as excellent translators, you might pay more for this service and you don’t get the excellent benefits of immersing yourself in a new language and culture.

·        Better social interaction. Seniors are at risk for loneliness and social isolation. In fact, the CDC reports that social isolation is connected to a higher risk of dementia, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, and even early death.4 Work to avoid these issues by getting more social interaction, which you can do as you learn a new language. You can learn to converse with neighbors who speak Spanish, talk to those on message boards who are learning Arabic, and spend time debating the ins and outs of conjugating verbs on video chat with fellow learners. Do an internet search for local foreign language clubs who meet regularly to practice their speaking skills.

·        Stronger cultural understanding. It’s a very big world with many cultures to explore. Learn what family life is like in Brazil, explore the history of Germany, and dive deep into the unique world of Norwegians. The more you learn about various cultures, the more your world opens up and your long-held traditions and beliefs are challenged. This is a good thing, as it broadens your horizons and introduces you to amazing things you might not have discovered if you hadn’t gotten curious about the language.

·        More effective communication close to home. You don’t have to travel to another country to use a foreign language. The United States is a true melting pot of cultures where a wide variety of languages are spoken in day-to-day life. Top languages other than English spoken in the United States include Spanish, Chinese (such as Mandarin or Cantonese), Tagalog, Vietnamese, and French or French Creole.5 How wonderful it would feel to speak to your neighbors fluently and get to know them better!

·        Better job opportunities. If you are still in the job market, learning a new language can make you much more marketable. That’s especially true if you learn a language that is in high demand in the United States, such as Spanish or Portuguese. If you work in a customer-facing position, you become even more valuable to employers. You can become the face of the company for those who speak the language you’re learning.

·        Improved multitasking skills. Did you know that those who can speak more than one language have a better ability to multitask and switch quickly between tasks than those who know only one language? Studies from Penn State have found that “mental juggling” is much easier for those who fluently speak more than one language.6 That mental prowess can extend to other activities.

Nursing Yourself to Better Health Through a Foreign Language

There’s another point that is often overlooked when it comes to learning a new language, and that is the power of those words to heal. Studies have proven time and time again that your brainpower can be increased through learning a new language, and that also translates into healing of a brain that has been injured.

If you have suffered from a traumatic brain injury, such as you might experience if you fall and hit your head, you have some recovery ahead of you. Just as with exercising your body to overcome a hip fracture or other consequences of taking a hard fall, you can exercise your brain to help it rebuild the connections it needs to stay sharp and strong. Language Network reports that if you learn a new language and then suffer a stroke or other cerebral event that requires some recovery time, knowing another language makes it easier to recover your lost skills. The switching back and forth between languages is a constant brain exercise that helps with recovery.7

If you have suffered a brain injury of any kind, it’s a good idea to consider a personal emergency response system. A PERS is medical alert technology that can connect you immediately with a monitoring center. That center is staffed with live, trained professionals who are ready to assist you, no matter the time, day or night. They stand ready to contact your selected family or friends to come to your aid, and if the situation is very serious, they will send emergency services to your location right away.

The use of a medical alert device can save you from a great deal of pain and worry – you can get help fast, which means you won’t face the dire prospect of lying on the floor for hours while you wait for someone to happen by and assist you. It can also save you a great deal of money, as the sooner you get help after a fall, the easier it will be to treat whatever has happened to you. Prompt care not only saves you from pain and worry, but protects your wallet as well.

Learning a new language is a protective measure for your brain, just as an affordable senior alert system is protection for your body. Get started with both by accessing a wide variety of language-learning programs available for free online and by visiting Alert1 Medical Alert Systems. You’ll be glad you did!