'Parlez-Vous' for Brain Power: Fluent Knowledge of Foreign Languages Slows Aging, Claims Study

CC0 / / Brain
Brain - Sputnik International, 1920, 17.04.2022
Previous studies have also suggested that if you can speak more than one language fluently, you might have a bigger brain, as Swedish scientists used an MRI to measure the brain of participants before and after an intense language-learning course.
Chatting fluently in two or more foreign languages not only improves brain function and slows down its ageing, but can stave off the onslaught of such neurodegenerative illnesses as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s, according to new research.
The study offers potentially encouraging news for some 47.5 million people worldwide, currently living with dementia, including 32.7 million Alzheimer’s patients, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A collaboration of scientists from Russia’s Higher School of Economics (HSE) University and Britain’s Northumbria University examined 63 healthy adults aged 60 or older who had no history of psychiatric or neurodegenerative disorders.
The people involved in the research all had at least a partial knowledge of a second language. Before the study, they were required to fill out a questionnaire to indicate how long they had spoken a second language, how fluently, how often and where their knowledge. Their “cognitive reserve” was also examined.

‘Cognitive Ageing’

Typically, our mental ability begins to increasingly show signs of “wear-and-tear” as we grow older. This process is called “cognitive ageing”. With it comes decreased ability to process information and worse short-term memory. Similarly, our language skills and visual-spatial functions decline.
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However, there is such a thing as a person’s individual cognitive reserve – accumulated over one’s lifetime – which impacts the ageing process. In other words, if during an individual lifetime the brain’s neural networks are trained and strengthened in response to various external triggers, the person’s cognitive reserve may be more impressive and robust, resulting in less neurological decline. It has been previously claimed that such aspects as physical activity, diet, career, leisure habits, and education all factor into the cognitive reserve.
The cognitive test carried out on the individuals in the study revealed that foreign language skills had a positive effect. Thus, the longer participants had studied a second language and the more fluent they were, the better they performed in the experiment.

“The language centres are constantly at work in our minds. This experiment highlights how high levels of language proficiency reduce the influence of other components of cognitive decline. This suggests that the benefits of bilingualism on cognitive reserve are stronger than other factors”, said Federico Gallo from HSE University.

According to the study, bilingual speakers are constantly called upon to make everyday life choices, switching between two language systems.

“Unlike other factors that shape cognitive reserve, bilingualism is unique in that it is constantly present in our lives. We can intensify or give up physical activity, go on a diet or change jobs, but language always stays with us”, said Gallo.

The results of the study have been published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Psychology.
In another study, by the same team, proficiency in two or more languages was shown to improve brain function also in people with various neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and stroke.
Brain - Sputnik International, 1920, 17.03.2022
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In their research, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Gallo and his team explained how bilinguals are diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases five to seven years later than monolingual speakers.

“There are no really effective drugs to prevent or delay brain ageing. Huge financial resources are needed to develop pharmaceutical treatments. Therefore, research into alternative, non-medicinal ways of slowing down cognitive ageing should be a priority”, Gallo said.

Foreign-language fluent people also appear to have “bigger” brains. According to a 2012 Swedish study, learning another language actually causes a measurable increase in key parts of the brain. The research was carried out using an MRI to measure the brain of participants before and after an intense language learning course.
© Flickr / r. nial bradshawClassroom snooping
Classroom snooping - Sputnik International, 1920, 17.04.2022
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Thus, linguists who have mastered another language can rest assured that they have opened up not only vast learning opportunities for themselves, but may look ahead to more graceful cognitive aging.
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