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The Amazing Health Benefits of Learning a Language

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Did you know that learning a new language can delay dementia by 4 to 5 years?

We don’t like to think about things like dementia. However, it is a reality for many people. The effects are devastating for them and the people who care for them. 

Learning another language at any point in your life will give you cognitive reserve. Knowing more than one language also improves executive function (essentially, switching tasks).

Do you think you are too old to learn a language, or too old to reap the amazing benefits? Keep reading to learn about how learning a new language can benefit your health, and how to do so in three simple steps.

Step 1: Know the benefits

The research on the findings is that multilingualism has positive effects on the onset of three types of dementia: Alzheimer’s, frontotemporal and vascular. Studies by Toronto’s York University, The University of Edinburgh and Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMSH) in Hyderabad, India. 

The research also shows that the onset of dementia seems to be delayed by about four to five years in people who speak more than one language-effects more powerful than any drugs currently available (Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status) Multilinguals are also twice as likely to recover cognitively from stroke than people who speak one language (Bilingualism aids stroke recovery).

According to Dr. Thomas Bak, one of the leading researchers in this area from the University of Edinburgh, studying a language later in life brings even greater benefits to health. “I would say that not only can people reap the benefits at older ages, the benefits will be even greater. If your goal is to be mistaken for a native speaker, the younger you begin, the better. If you use language learning as a mental exercise, it counts more what you do after the age of fifty than what you do before. Language learning is a great mental exercise.”

Talk about a useful and rewarding way to keep your mind sharp. Imagine impressing your friends on your next trip abroad when you order the wine, or being able to talk to more people. For example, speaking Spanish and English enables you to speak to about a fifth of the world. It makes you see the world through another lens and opens up so many ways to connect with others on so many levels. Charlemagne even said “To have another language is to possess another soul.”

The best part? You don’t even need to have fluency as a goal or spend endless hours to reap these benefits.

Step 2: Make Time

Time is one of the most critical elements of learning a language. 

People are busy. Even this passionate language teacher and learner has to be creative to find ways to fit learning into life.

I have a commute, and use that time to learn. When I am in the Novice/A range, I do audio courses and podcasts. If I commuted by train, I might opt for more apps, or to work through notebooks and read more. 

Some ways to find time to learn languages in your daily life are your downtime, commute, while cleaning, shopping, exercising, doing errands or pursuing other goals. I did audio courses in Italian and lost weight by walking at the same time. 

These periods add up. Ramp up your intensity and time, and your results will progress proportionally. 

Just looking for the health benefits? According to Dr. Bak, you are never too old to reap the benefits. The older you are, the more likely you are to benefit. Lingo Flamingo is a project exploring treating dementia in Scotland.

Step 3: Get Started!

Getting language into your life to reap the amazing health benefits and real-life skills is easy nowadays. Technology makes it possible to start learning anywhere, anytime. Some ideas:

  1.  Listen to audio courses on your commute. I love Pimsleur!
  2.  Listen to audio courses in your car while you’re doing errands. Mark Frobose produces some great courses for beginners.
  3. Listen to audio courses while you’re exercising or walking. Earworms has created some fun short courses.
  4. Listen to short stories in the target language. I love Olly Richards’ short stories.
  5. Listen to audio courses while you’re cleaning. I love Michel Thomas’ courses.
  6. Listen to a course during your rideshare time or while you’re doing errands. 
  7. Read. Think pleasure reading-magazines, blogs, recipes, etc. Use a plugin like Readlang to help.
  8. Meet online with a tutor on italki. I love to record my sessions and listen to them later. 
  9. Watch movies and TV shows in the target language. Streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime make that very easy and accessible. Check out Language Learning with Netflix. Yabla dedicates itself to making videos comprehensible for learners.
  10. Spend time with realia. Think magazines, advertisements, blogs, recipes, receipts, newspapers, etc..
  11. Journal every day for five weeks. As a beginner, write down words and phrases you want to learn and study them every day to complete certain tasks. For example, learn how to greet, or order food. As you progress, use this as an exercise to practice what you know and test what you don’t know, then fill in the gaps.
  12. Binge-watch target language content. Youtube is one of the largest search engines in the world. Learn a few key words in your target language to find interesting content.
  13. Take a five-week language course at a private language school abroad next year. Consider getting a reward card from your airline and credit card company. I love my Chase United card. I get miles for purchases that can be used for a free flight.
  14. Hit the streets and talk to people in your community.
  15. Attend immersion programs, to include online immersion. Learn some key words to learn something new in your target language. Sites like Youtube can be your ultimate resource for learning a language while learning something else.
  16. Attend language classes. 
  17. Do language exchange on sites like Hello Talk.
  18. Do exercise classes in the target language, like yoga or Batuka.
  19. Phrase books-take those and travel to the target language country. Speak to people. Even if you’re not travelling, use them to communicate in your target language. They are the perfect resource for a beginner.
  20.  Create your own language club. Meet regularly and practice your target language. Serve food and drink from the target language culture.
  21. Talk to yourself every day. Read words and dialogues, or test yourself for fluency when you reach the top of the novice level. 
  22. Do the same thing with a journal. I love beginning task journals, where you write out all of the words and phrases you need to talk about a specific task. Move into fluency journals as your fluency grows. 
  23. Doodle, draw scenes and label the page. This is a fun and enjoyable way for the artist in us to build some language skills. 
  24. Spend time with apps. If you’re driving, that might not be realistic, but you can do it in your free time. Duolingo, Drops, and Flash Academy are fun and effective.
  25. Listen to music. It is a great way to get exposure to sounds and new language. Try Lyrics Training for some engaging ways to learn language through music.

Regardless of what you choose, ensure that it fits into your life, and is realistic.

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