The language of thought

There are lots of things you plan to do. You want to sail around the Whitsundays, you want to re-organise your sock drawer, and you want to write that wonderful novel that apparently all of us have within us regardless of life experience or skill with words. Possibly you also intend like the 3.5 billion people who aren’t already bilingual to learn a second language. If you have dithered about broadening your lingual capabilities then hesitate no longer because according to a new study not only will you be able to amaze people at dinner parties by knowing another way to say, “pass the salad, please” but you will also be enhancing your mental abilities.

For the new study researchers tested subjects on different aspects of mental function such as mental alertness, ability to concentrate on sounds, ability to switch between counting upwards and downwards, and the ability to produce different words. Some of the subjects had just started learning a second language, others had been learning for about four years, and others were not learning a second language but were studying humanities at university.

The results showed that people who learned a second language were better able to switch attention meaning they in effect had greater mental agility. Humanities students had improved letter fluency but a slightly lesser ability to switch focus.

This builds on previous research showing that learning a second language improves thinking skills later in life and reduces the risk of developing dementia. The study as a whole though also shows that any learning helps your brain age more efficiently. In other words, the time to decide that you know it all is…never.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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