Learning a second language is a good thing to do. Isn’t it nice to be able to express yourself in the local language when you are in a country? The locals will certainly appreciate it. However, there is another benefit to learning a second language: a study suggests that learning a second language may slow down mental decline.
Thomas H. Bak and his colleagues from the University of Edinburgh conducted a longitudinal study in which they assessed people’s mental abilities at age 11 and then again at age 70. One third of the participants had started learning a second language at some point in time after their 11th birthday. The test scores of those who had learned a second language were beyond what could be predicted by their test scores at age 11, which was not the case for those who had not learned a second language. The effect was strongest for general intelligence and reading. The effects were stronger when people knew three languages than when they knew two. Other factors that could potentially influence cognitive ability at age 70 such as environmental factors were not relevant because the sample investigated was very homogeneous (people born and raised in the area of Edinburgh, Scotland). Other factors such as sex, age, or social class were controlled for statistically. The authors reason that the effect is due to the fact that “constantly need to select, monitor, and suppress linguistic information, stimulating frontal executive functions”.
The original study was published in the journal Annals of Neurology. There is an outline of it on the Science Alert Blog.
So as you can see there are quite a few ways of keeping your brain in shape as you age. Learning a second (or even third or fourth) language is one option. We reported on other ways before: physical exercise, socialising, learning a new skill, brain training, or even playing videogames. So there is some method for keeping your brain in shape for different preferences, just pick whatever you like!