Can Learning a Second Language Reduce the Likelihood of Alzheimer’s?

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Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd

English’s growing dominance as the global language of trade and social interaction has made it an increasingly important tool for non-native speakers the world over. However, while English can open doors in employment and education, new studies have also shown that studying a second language like English can also increase mental faculties and stave off diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Studies were conducted on Indian patients diagnosed with dementia, and on average, patients who spoke multiple languages began developing Alzheimer’s symptoms 4.5 years later than patients who only spoke one language.

Researchers believed this is due to the impact that learning new vocabulary has on the brain’s executive functions. Learning a new language and using it requires the brain to exercise a variety of different areas as it tries to switch between the new language and the speakers native one. It is like a mental calisthenics routine, boosting brainpower that has the potential to stave of debilitating dementia in the same way that good cardio staves off heart disease.

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This does more than simply keep illness at bay. Those mental processes are an important part of the way the human brain intakes all kinds of information. Learning a language helps boost memory, problem solving, and even empathy according to the studies results.

These results are not necessarily limited to the study of the English language. However, the economic, educational, and travel benefits that come with learning English make it a perfect choice for a second language. For someone not interested in learning English in an English speaking country, opportunities in countries like Germany, Sweden, and South Korea allow someone to learn English alongside other languages and cultures.

Regardless, the potentially mind altering benefits of second language learning make it an imperative for mental health advocates everywhere. English or not, learning a second language is an important practice for everyone to engage in.