Looking for the fountain of youth? Look no further than a foreign language class, at least as far as your brain is concerned. According to a new study from the University of Edinburgh, learning to speak a second language actually keeps your brain younger and protects against age-related cognitive decline.
The study looked at 835 men and women, all born in Scotland to English-speaking families. They were tested for mental abilities once at age eleven and then again in their seventies.
The subjects who spoke more than one language did much better than would normally be expected on the second round of tests, especially in the areas of general intelligence and reading. Research has clearly established that children are “wired” to learn a second language more easily than adults, and there are cognitive advantages to being raised bilingually.
However, in this study the beneficial effects were seen even in people who learned their second language after the age of 18. So, it’s never too late to reap the benefits of learning another language.
Study author Dr. Thomas Bak, of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, wrote:
“These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain.”
Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, professor of medicine at Harvard, confirmed the importance of the study to the BBC:
“The epidemiological study provides an important first step in understanding the impact of learning a second language and the ageing brain. This research paves the way for future causal studies of bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention.”
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