Learning a Foreign Language Offers Benefits to Brain Health and Memory
Bonjour. ¿Cómo estás? Grüß dich! Learning a foreign language not only is fun and potentially useful, but it may also boost cognition and memory.
Foreign language learning is associated with various brain health benefits, according to research.
One Swedish study, for example, found that a group of young students who engaged in intensive language training experienced greater growth in various parts of their brains than a control group of students. Brain regions that grew, according to the study, included the hippocampus, a deep-lying brain structure involved in learning new material and spatial navigation, as well as three areas in the cerebral cortex.
Learning a second language as an older adult also appears to support cognition and memory.
A recent systematic review of the literature highlighted research that reported cognitive improvements in older adults who studied a foreign language.
For example, one study found improvements in global cognition following six months of individual computer-based cognitively stimulating activities, including foreign language learning. Another study of older foreign language learners showed significant improvements in global cognition, along with increased resting-state functional connectivity between regions on the left and right hemispheres.
The review did note, however, that a few studies reported no improvement for all cognitive skills examined or improvements that were not significantly different from a control group.
Still other studies report significant brain benefits of using a second language. One study of the scientific literature concluded that the cognitive and neurological benefits of bilingualism extend into older adulthood.
Bilingualism appears to provide a means of fending off a natural decline of cognitive function and maintaining what is called “cognitive reserve,” the study noted. Cognitive reserve refers to the efficient utilization of brain networks to enhance brain function during aging.
The bilingual experience, the study continued, may contribute to this reserve by keeping the cognitive mechanisms sharp and helping to recruit alternate brain networks to compensate for those that become damaged during aging.
The benefits to aging adults aren’t exclusive to people who were raised bilingual, the report added. These benefits are also seen in people who learn a second language later in life.
Fortunately, consumers today have access to various online language programs that are easy and fun to activate. Pharmacists can recommend these and other foreign language lessons, including adult education classes, to their customers as another tool for staying mentally sharp. Buena suerte.