By Thomas Holl
Everyone knows that learning a new language is good for the brain. That’s why in Canada and many European countries, foreign language learning starts in grammar school and continues on through high school and college. Most people think that only the young can reap the benefits of language learning, but I’ll let you in on a secret — even if you’re not in your teens or twenties, learning a new language in retirement offers exponential benefits and can change your life, for the better. In addition to increased job and dating prospects, learning a new language provides less superficial, unexpected benefits like promoting memory, improving multitasking, increasing attention, preventing dementia and more.
Babbel, a leading mobile language learning tool for 14 different languages with 25 million downloads, has gained tremendous traction with senior language learners. After working with and surveying thousands of senior language learners, the company has been able to gain insights into the top motivators and benefits of language learning later in life. Below are the top three benefits, cited by both the senior and scientific community.
Slow the Brain’s Aging and Prevent Dementia
Babbel surveyed over 5,000 of its users on their motivations for learning a new language. The two most common responses were to communicate better when travelling (26%) and genuine interest in the language (22%). But the third most popular reason was to keep mentally fit (17%), showing the perception of language learning is changing. Age, naturally, was a crucial variable in the study — over 30% of people more than 70-years-old saw language learning as a way to keep mentally fit, while only 5% of people under 18 felt that way.
There’s also scientific research that backs this theory. A June 2014 study from the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology says if you learn a second language — even in adulthood — it can stave off dementia for at least a few years. Additionally, learning a new language provides seniors with improved attention span, better multi-tasking skills and even improved decision-making skills.
Enrich Your Travel Experiences and Learn about New Cultures
The United States is known as the “no vacation nation.” Following retirement, it’s your chance to see the world, expand your horizons and finally see a few places on your bucket list. If you’re looking to take that trip of a lifetime, learning a new language a year in advance of your trip can make it a much more meaningful and immersive experience. It’s a lot more fun to order dinner or ask for directions in the country’s native tongue. Plus, you can fully experience the country’s culture, engaging in conversations with locals, giving you a chance to learn about the locals’ point of view, humor and more.
Build Self Confidence
Learning a new language not only provides mental health benefits, but it also gives you a boost of self-confidence in your ability to learn and grow. And it’s a key item on almost everyone’s bucket list, an achievement that can provide a real sense of satisfaction once your hard work has paid off. Many seniors have reported that this sense of self-achievement and boost in confidence from learning a new language can have a positive effect in other areas of their lives as well from discovering new passions to meeting new friends.
Learning a new language later in life can be intimidating, but with all of the different language learning tools available today, picking up a new language can be fun and inexpensive. For example, apps like Babbel, which start at $6.95 per month, offer interactive, fun courses that leverage technology to customize the experience and learning to your ability, pace and more. With so many modern advances and the chance to keep your mind young, there has never been a better time to start learning how to say Hola, Bonjour, Ciao, Hallo and so on!