Learning a New Language Can Help Keep the Brain Sharp
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.
A new study headed by Brian Gold, a neuroscientist at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine 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 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.
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. However, learning a new language can help keep the brain sharp.
There are different methods to learning a new language:
Foreign language tapes
Grammar/vocabulary books from a child's foreign language class
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. Learning a new language can have profound effects on mental abilities.