How do we know learning a new language slow brain aging?

One of the best examples showing the impact of being bilingual on brain aging comes from a study conducted by the University of Edinburgh. The study focused on 835 native English speakers from around Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1947, they were given an intelligence test, all at the age of 11. These same participants were given another intelligence test between 2008 and 2010, when they were all in the 70s.

Participants who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities on the second test, with the biggest gaps being in general intelligence and reading.

One of the striking conclusions from the study was that the increase in cognitive abilities was seen in participants who learned a second or third language later in life. The benefits of learning a new language early in life are well documented, this study also showed that even learning a language later in life still has a cognitive benefit.

According to the researchers, the increase in cognitive abilities could not be explained by original intelligence and that the patterns they found indicated the increases were the result of bilingualism.

How does learning a new language slow brain aging?

Scientists believe the key to slowing brain aging is to continue to keep the brain active and to specifically activate different areas of the brain.Bilingualism is like a mental workout. It has been proven that people who speak multiple languages think through all the different words and phrases in every language they speak. This activity helps to keep their brains engaged when speaking. 

Not only are bilingual brains more engaged, but they also use different parts of the brain, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, bilateral supramarginal gyri and the anterior cingulate. The advancements in these parts of the brain through language learning help to keep the brain firing efficiently, which slows the aging process.

What are the benefits of slowing brain aging?

The benefits of slowing brain aging are an increase in the quality of life in the latter stages of life.Enhanced cognitive abilities allow you to process information faster and increases memory. These are vital for quality of life.

On top of enhanced cognitive abilities, slowing brain aging also helps to fight neurodegeneration. Bilingualism can help to offset dementia and even in those who have suffered neurodegeneration, the ability to speak multiple languages helps to compensate by using other brain networks and connection paths. This can help to extend the health of the brain for longer periods of time.

When is the best time to learn a new language?

While studies have shown it is easier to learn a new language at a younger age, research into brain aging shows that it does not matter when you learn a new language.Even people who learn a new language later in life see the same positive brain aging as those who learned a new language early in life.

This result is leading some to hypothesize that learning a second language could actually be a treatment for people with signs of dementia early in life.  By learning a second language, researchers believe you can maintain cognitive function, even if you develop a neurodegenerative disease. This hypothesis is based on the mental output required to learn and use a second language.

There are so many benefits to learning a new language and with this new research, maybe the most important one of all is now proven. So, if you want to have a long and rewarding life, you might want to learn Spanish or sign up for an online German class now. No matter what age you are, you will certainly see the benefits later in life.