Aging is something we all must face up to, and some people look forward to it, and others do not. Getting older is perhaps not the worry, but losing bodily or mental capacity is. Bodily worries can possibly be overcome by good diet and exercise and most people are fortunately aware of this continuing with both well into old age. Mental health, on the other hand, is something few people know how to address, but there is a remarkable way to keep the brain healthy.
Some people do crosswords and others Sudoku, and these both can stimulate the brain, and yet they come a close second to the ultimate brain exercise and always will. The best challenge you can set for your brain as you get older is to learn or speak another language. Understanding language, even your native language, is one of the most difficult things for your brain to achieve. Adding a second language to this is, a brand new language, is the equivalent of an Olympic event for your brain.
Studies around the world, and in particular Edinburgh University, have proven that speaking a second language has positive effects on the brain. Research conducted between 2008 and 2010 with some participants first tested in the late 1940s showed improved cognitive abilities in older people who spoke a second language. Cognitive abilities are the brain-based skills that are needed for humans to undertake anything form simple tasks to the most complex. By using MRI technology, scientists have collected evidence to prove that parts of the brain actually grow when a person studies a language intensively over a longer period of time. Strangely enough, no brain growth was detected in the control group that had not been learning a language although they had been studying just as intensively. How we learn, remember, solve problems and even pay attention are all improved with a second language.
Knowing a second language and learning a second language keeps the brain extremely active. Even if a person has been speaking the language from a young age, the exercise this creates for the brain is considerable. People often think that those who speak a second language are more clever, and they would not be entirely wrong. Because speaking a second language works the brain harder, the brain absorbs more and retains more. Extending this into later years has shown that people with a second language have brains that seem to age slower or better and they are more intelligent as a result.
There are believed to be links between second language acquisition and aging ailments, such as dementia and even Alzheimer’s. Because the brain must juggle and shuffle things around can switch between languages, this activity keeps the brain healthy. Memory and concentration levels remain high, and can even increase with a second language later in life. It makes sense that overall communication ability is improved and the perception of higher intelligence is indeed a definite and proven increase.
With a second language, older people need never be bored, as the language not only improves focus and attention spans but also aids creativity. For a long and healthy life, with all your cognitive abilities intact, a second language is the answer. It is never too late to learn, even at an older age the challenge a language brings is very good for mental and physical health.
The saying goes “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” but that is not entirely true. Dogs may struggle to learn new tricks as they get older but in humans it is not so. In fact, the human brain is often hungry to continually expand and try to learn something new. Growing up, many of us dream, there were things we wanted to do that for any number of reasons could not happen in childhood. Many adults look on as teenagers, even groups of younger kids excel at doing things they could only dream of, Skiing, computer programming, playing the piano or speaking Spanish, French or even Mandarin. The adults look on, and for some reason they believe it is too late to learn now and write it off and wish the kids a happy future.
It is never too late to learn something new and many university professors around the world would agree. One of these is Professor Jennifer Raymond, an associate professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, who has studied brain plasticity. Understanding how the brain is wired, is rewired and continues to do so, has shown that while it is best to learn as the brain is developing up to the age of twenty, the brain can learn at any age.
Yes, the learning is slowed down a little but why is that? The reason is quite simple. The reason is the fear of making a mistake. The brain matures, information is stored and more negative influences come into play. The negative influences become barriers, whereas in children there are fewer of these and they learn faster. If the negative connotations can be overcome, it is possible to learn anything at any age.
One of the easiest things for children to learn at a young age is language. Children living in multilingual homes pick both or each language up naturally. For an adult moving in, it would take a while to learn. Likewise, at school, children learn the language or anything new for that matter more quickly than adults do. Everything is about fear. For adults learning to ski, the fear is not the fear of being unable ski but the fear that they will look stupid. It is a crazy barrier to overcome and it is all in the mind, well, much of it is anyhow.
With a language, the way in which it is taught makes all the difference for an adult. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of the language as so many schools do, encouraging people to converse with others in that language is a far better method. People who want to learn a language will be put off by trying to learn all the technicalities; they just want to speak it. Learning a language with other speakers who know you want to learn, makes a difference. They know you will make mistakes but they will not ridicule you but rather point out the error and encourage you. This is how VLLC teaches language, they give you the confidence to communicate.
Anything, including another language, can be learnt at any age when we put our minds to it. “You can’t teach an old dog a new trick” is rubbish, older dogs, well people actually, have a lot more to give, and if they are determined to learn, they will do so better. All they need is some encouragement.
These blogs are about learning a foreign language and how utilising that skill can help to keep your mind active and assist with your cognitive function.