Foreign languages “protect” the brain

The theory that learning a foreign language has a protective effect on the brain has been boosted by a new study showing that people with multiple sclerosis (MS) experience less cognitive decline if they are bilingual. When a team at the University of Reading compared the mental abilities of bilingual and monolingual MS patients, they found that the former performed markedly better, and particularly in an area known as “monitoring”, which is connected with people’s ability to think laterally.

That bilingualism provides some protection against neurodegenerative decline was first suggested by studies that found evidence that the symptoms of dementia develop later in bilingual people. Bilingual people have also been found to be better at remembering shopping lists and at distinguishing quickly between important and irrelevant information.  (The Week, 1 Feb 2020)

My take:  When I tried to learn a foreign language, in this case Italian, at the local university, I made the mistake of joining a class of 18 and 19 year olds, most of whom already spoke fluent Spanish.  I desperately tried to keep up, but it was like trying to race a group of Olympic athletes.  I had to admit defeat.  Learning German as an adult for business reasons was also a bit frustrating. The  Germans only wanted to practice their excellent English.

I do think born English speakers are at a disadvantage growing up to speak the main world language -a moral one anyway. However the shoe will soon be on the other foot. Soon  English speakers will have to learn Chinese.  Good luck with that!

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