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Learn a new language to train your brain and more

The Bottom Line

  • The benefits of learning a new language are numerous and can even affect aging.
  • Cognitive performance can be boosted at an older age by various activities such as learning a new language.
  • Learning a new language can increase a person's positive feelings about themselves, promotes wellbeing, strengthen social cohesion, and improve community and social engagement.

Kwei! Bonjour! Buenos dias! γεια σας! Buongiorno! こんにちは! Hallo! Olá! Привет!

Saying "Hi". This is one of the first words you try to master when learning a new language. A simple word, but one that allows us to establish a first contact with others ...

There is no age to learn a new language. Whether it's to further your education, to advance your career, to travel, to forge bonds, or to learn and nourish yourself from another culture.

The benefits of learning a new language are numerous and can even have repercussions on aging.(1) Indeed, several researchers are examining whether learning a new language can improve the quality of life of older adults and delay the onset of severe cognitive impairment.

What research tells us

A recent systematic review of seven studies examined the effects of learning a new language on cognitive abilities in healthy older adults.(2)

Despite some methodological shortcomings, such as the absence of control groups or differences in the intervention period, these studies reveal that learning a new language helps to maintain or improve cognitive abilities. Formal language classes have been shown to improve working memory, while playful activities to learn a new language have positive effects on attention. Bilingual individuals who learn a third language perform better in certain tasks, compared to unilingual individuals who learn a second language as adults.

Language classes and related activities, such as group discussions, reading, games, YouTube videos or singing in a foreign language, are easy activities to perform and are stimulating for older adults. The effect is positive on general wellbeing, including emotional wellbeing. Findings showed that older adults who learn another language feel more optimistic, confident, and proud.

In addition, in-person classes are great opportunities to socialize, to build strong social bonds among learners, and can foster greater integrating into society. Moreover, the positive cognitive effects of learning another language are due in part to the stimulation of social wellbeing.


Start now

Several resources are available to help you learn a new language:

Register for a course: Many language courses are offered online. You can also find out about available online or in-person courses at your local public library, community recreation and cultural centres, or educational institutions.

Immerse yourself in a new language: Tune in to radio channels from all over the world on your computer or mobile device. This will allow you to sharpen your ear to the rhythm of a new language. Online streaming platforms also offer films and tv series in the language of your choice. You can add subtitles to help you in your learning.

Help revitalize Indigenous languages: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has identified the revitalization of Indigenous languages ​​as one of the pillars in building a pact of reconciliation. The Government of Canada has identified many tools, courses, exercises and other resources for teaching and learning Indigenous languages.

Now, what would you like to learn today?

 

Featured Resources

Blog Post: Computer brain games for treating cognitive impairment 

Blog Post: Public libraries: Community hubs responding to the needs of older adults

For more evidence-based resources on memory and cognition, click here.


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References

  1. CBC News. Bilingualism boosts the brain at all ages. 29 June 2014.
  2. Klimova B and Pikhart M. Current research on the impact of foreign language learning among healthy seniors on their cognitive functions from a positive psychology perspective: A systematic review. Frontiers of Psychology, 2020, 11:765.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of these blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with current social distancing recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.

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