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By: Dr. Stacey Naito – Physician and IFBB Pro
Numerous research studies have revealed that people who speak two or more languages possess greater skill in multitasking and paying attention than those who only speak one language. In addition, a 2013 study discovered that individuals who spoke two languages developed the signs of dementia more than four years later than people who only spoke one language, which strongly suggests that being bilingual may help to delay the onset of dementia.
Never Too Late
Scientists have determined that the earlier one learns a second language, the greater the protective benefits against dementia, but it is never too late to learn a foreign tongue, even if you only learn a bit of the language. Be ready for a challenge, though, because most aspects of learning a foreign language later in life will be more difficult.
One clear benefit which older individuals have over youngsters when learning a foreign language is that they have much larger vocabularies which are often as large as those of native speakers. However, the challenges which exist for older people learning a foreign tongue are numerous. First of all, phonemes, or sounds, of a language are very easily picked up by children, but are much more difficult for adults to learn. Secondly, adults automatically hear a foreign language through the filter of their native language, which is not the case in toddlers. As a result, the older learner may have issues with pronunciation.
A toddler’s brain has about fifty percent more neuron connections than an adult brain. The extra connections are a safeguard against potential early trauma, but are also critical for early language acquisition. After a child reaches six years of age, adaptability declines as a result of the brain’s need to acquire other skills during development. This adaptability, also known as neuroplasticity, continues to plummet throughout the years, making it more difficult to obtain new language skills.
Several studies have suggested that learning a foreign language later in life can delay age-related cognitive decline, as well as delay the onset of dementia. In addition, the mental challenge of learning a new language during later years improves executive function, which is important for mental flexibility.