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Languages bring cognitive benefits whatever age you start learning

language acquisition Mar 08, 2022

At Babel Babies we believe it is important to only state something is FACT if there is concrete scientific evidence to back it up.

This means evidence from several studies converges to support applying the evidence to the wider population (beyond the study participants themselves).

Truthfully, this doesn’t often happen in education research where studies are typically small (class-sized in many cases) and not replicated in different contexts to confirm results.

So, as parents and educators, we need to assess any ‘scientific facts’ presented before we apply them in real life.

Unfortunately, we see lots of well-meaning but flawed discourse on social media surrounding language education.

Things such as:
👉 ‘the younger the better’ for learning languages
👉 The bilingual “advantage”
👉 The more languages the better, etc.

Quite often, the science quoted is out of date or accumulated from such small studies with different approaches it is inconclusive. Sometimes the research was poorly executed or involves an untested theory, but still gets quoted as ‘fact’ because it sounds convincing!

Now, the flip side of this (so we don’t come across as too much of a party-pooper!) is that we LOVE talking about science, and sometimes there has been enough evidence to make substantiated claims.

One such claim is that languages can SLOW DOWN the onset of dementia symptoms and facilitate BRAIN RECOVERY and OVERALL RECOVERY following a stroke.

Better still is that these cognitive benefits kick in whether you start learning multiple languages as a child who is raised with two or more languages (approximately) equally, or later in life as an adult where you do not have equal exposure to different languages.

In 2015 a study was carried out by Vega Mendoza et al. with students at Edinburgh University to see if acquiring a second language later on in childhood or adulthood could produce the same effects for your brain health as a 'classic' bilingual upbringing – where there has been equal exposure to both (or more) languages in childhood. They tested participants' attention, verbal fluency & language proficiency. 

The results:
"We conclude that overall late-acquisition non-balanced bilinguals experience similar cognitive effects as their early-acquisition balanced counterparts."

In other words...
Whether you start learning languages from a very young age, with equal exposure to the different languages OR you start learning later on in life without an equal or balanced exposure to each language, your brain will experience similar cognitive effects.

And what are these 'cognitive effects'?
👍 a slowing down of the brain's ageing process and delaying the onset of dementia
👍 a better recovery following stroke in terms of brain function and stroke recovery in general

Perhaps language-learning should be prescribed by doctors! No available drug delays dementia symptoms longer than language education

Please share this post to inform your friends about the amazing cognitive effects learning languages – at any age – has on your brain, supported by up-to-date scientific research. The benefits of learning language start whenever you start learning, not just in childhood. If you didn't start in childhood it's not too late – there is no "critical window" that has closed... start learning today!

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