Are schools still relevant in teaching us foreign languages in the 21st century? Let's find out together.
Are you ever too old to learn a new language? Well, the good news is that experts say you are never too old. Studies show that anyone at any age can learn a new language. In fact, it is even easier to start speaking in a foreign language now with all the advanced technology available on the market. A chatbot, for instance, can teach you new words and grammar through fun and engaging games. It can also help you with your accent of the language that you want to learn. Read on to find out why you should pick up a new language in your golden years.
Neuroplasticity and Seniors
The brain’s neuroplasticity has been blamed for giving seniors a hard time to learn new language skills. It is defined as the brain’s ability to form and restructure synaptic connections, mainly in response to learning or injury. While neuroplasticity decreases as we age, a proverb that says, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” may also stop seniors from learning a second language, much less a third one.
The science may be right but the proverb is wrong for the most part. Research on neuroplasticity challenges the assumption that seniors cannot learn a new language. This particular research notes that you can never be too old to learn new tricks. However, the researchers are not denying the fact that learning new things is much harder as a person grows older. This should not discourage seniors from learning French or German or any other language though.
Albert Costa, a professor of neuroscience in Barcelona’s Universitat Pompeu Fabra, said in an interview with the Guardian that older individuals learning a new language have an advantage over their younger counterparts. This is mainly because older people are armed with larger vocabularies. As a result, they will learn more words that are included in the arsenal of a native speaker.
Although this is advantageous, Costa adds that it is much more difficult for seniors to master accents. The good news is, there are game-like tutorials that can teach males and females ages 6 to 90 or over to speak a new language of their choosing. These games include voiceovers that teach participants how to pronounce certain words.
Bilingualism Improves Cognition
Bilingualism is beneficial to brain health, according to researchers at Edinburgh University. After examining medical records of 648 patients with Alzheimer’s disease in Hyderabad, the researchers found that monolingual patients developed dementia earlier than those who spoke two languages. The lead researcher Thomas Bak notes that learning a new language later in life is beneficial because it helps exercise the brain.
Experts in senior health agree with Bak. The brain needs exercise and learning a new word every day or a new language can structurally and functionally alter the brain. It can make it more efficient and more flexible. Playing brain games that keep the mind young is also advisable. This includes crossword puzzles, card games, and scrabble. Seniors can also improve their problem solving skills by building something. If you have always wanted to build a birdhouse, for example, starting this project will help you exercise your brain. Experts also suggest that you carry cash for your daily purchases. Counting your change and remembering simple mathematical computations is a good brain exercise. With regular exercise, the brain will be better at focusing, remembering lists, directions, and sequences.
Learning keeps the brain young
York University and the American Academy of Neurology also conducted their own studies about bilingualism and dementia. Both institutions found that switching from one language to the other activates areas of the brain responsible for executive functioning. This involves the same area that is responsible for completing tasks.
According to the studies, utilizing this part of the brain often can decrease cognitive decline and can delay the initial effects of dementia. It must be noted that a third language is not required unless you are already bilingual. For multilingual individuals, learning a new language when you reach the age of 50 is a good way to improve brain health.
More Than Just Medical Benefits
Bilingualism does not only help in keeping your brain active, it can also increase your social interactions. The Gerontological Society of America notes that socialization can help improve an older individual’s general well-being.
A new language can open a whole new world for seniors because they get to learn about a new culture at the same time. They’d also get to watch films in their second language without having to rely on subtitles. If you think you’re already too old to learn something new, it’s time to prove yourself wrong. Learn a new language today and reap its long-term benefits.
– written by Jane Sandwood, contributor at Mondly