Is it true? Does learning a second language fight brain disease?

According to the Harvard Medical School and the American Academy of Neurology it does.

A recent study published towards the end of 2013 found that learning a second language fights brain disease. Bilingual people have a higher resistance to brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Speaking a second language is one important factor in keeping your brain in shape for later years.

One article published by the Harvard Medical School states;

A new study offers a novel preventive measure that could reduce the risk of developing dementia: learning a second language.

Another article based on findings from the American Academy of Neurology  states:

There is no guarantee that bilingual individuals won’t develop Alzheimer’s; however, learning a second language can help strengthen the brain, assist with memory, and delay symptoms.

Is globe-trotting mentally healthy?

These findings and articles are very interesting, especially for people who have decided to move to a different country and will therefore learn a new language.

I am sure that our TEFL course graduates did not realise that coming to study with us and learning Spanish, Greek or Tagalog as a by-product was not only good for their ambitions but also good for their brains.

One of the statements in the Harvard Medical School study’s findings is that (referring to the onset of the condition):

It applied even to people who spoke two languages but could not read either of them.

The interpretation is that speaking is more important than reading. One conclusion drawn must be that speaking places more demand on the brain which keeps it in shape. The net effect is that you need to be in a non-English speaking country to thoroughly practice and improve your speaking abilities.

The study also mentions that speaking more than two languages does not increase your protection, but I suppose it will not do any harm either.

Consequences for English teachers abroad

These findings are a revelation. As an English teacher, I knew that teaching English helped people achieve short and medium term personal goals. I never knew that what I was doing may also help reduce long-term mental health issues.

I also never knew that moving to a non-English speaking country and learning to speak another language would also be beneficial to my own brain’s health.

The brain is a mysterious object and who would have thought that leaving home, travelling to a new country, teaching English and learning a new language was not only an exciting adventure but also mentally healthy as well! Life is a mystery to be enjoyed. Be healthy and see you soon.

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