Many of us have had to learn a second language to fulfill educational requirements, but did so in a way that lacks motivation. However, if you need a good reason to break out your flashcards and keep training your tongue to pronounce tricky words, a new study may help.
Research published in the Annals of Neurology suggests being bilingual may slow cognitive decline that’s related to aging. Dr. Thomas Bak, from the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, led the study. He noted that similar studies have already highlighted a link between knowing a second language and being at a lower risk for dementia and cognitive decline. However, this particular study accounted for childhood intelligence and specifically looked at whether knowing more than one language would positively impact the brain’s ability to perform later in life.
To get data from this study, researchers looked at data from 835 people whose first language was English. Back in 1947, when the individuals were approximately 11 years old, they were asked to complete tests that measured cognitive ability and intelligence levels. Then, several decades later, after the participants had reached their early 70s, those same tests were repeated. At that time though, people were asked whether they were able to speak a second language.
A total of 262 people confirmed they could speak a second language. Although the majority became bilingual in childhood, 65 respondents reported learning a second language as adults.
Researchers concluded that people who knew a second language exceeded expectations in terms of cognitive performance. They specifically saw good results in the areas of general intelligence and reading.
It’s also important to note that cognitive gains were seen regardless of whether people in the study learned the second language in adulthood, or as children. Keep in mind though, a questionnaire was used to determine if a participant was bilingual. Further studies that include aptitude tests might pinpoint if being able to speak a second language at a particularly high level makes a difference in keeping the brain healthier.
There have also been other studies suggesting that problems like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have later onsets in people who are bilingual. Additionally, benefits to the brain have also been tracked during teenage years. Researchers also discovered bilingual children have enhanced brain functionality and are also better at multitasking than peers who do not speak a second language.
Although becoming bilingual certainly is not an easy task, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that shows how sticking with it may pay off through various phases of your life.
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