A foreign language does not let the brain grow old


With age, the brain begins to work worse. True, there is some consolation here: if earlier it was believed that the descent began after twenty, now many researchers believe that we begin to think worse after sixty. However, sooner or later the brain still begins to age. And of course, it would be nice to find a way to slow down its aging.

Staff at the Higher School of Economics and Northumbria University write to Frontiers in Psychologythat a foreign language helps here. Generally speaking, this is a well-known idea – that mental stress is good for the brain, and a foreign language is quite a burden. But now, researchers have confirmed the benefits of a second language in an experiment that accurately measures brain performance. More than fifty people over sixty years old without any signs of psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders were invited to take a cognitive test that showed how much the brain can prevent its own mistakes. Five arrows appeared on the screen in front of the person, pointing in different directions, and it was necessary to say where the central arrow was pointing. Those that were on the sides of her pointed either in the same direction or in the opposite direction, or instead of them, small squares appeared at all.

When all the arrows point in the same direction, the direction of the desired arrow is easy to determine. If the central arrow and those around you look in different directions, then you need a lot of concentration to give the right answer – you need to concentrate and not pay attention to the wrong majority, slow down before the wrong answer. Among the participants in the experiment were people who spoke a second language to varying degrees. It turned out that those who studied the second language longer and who spoke it more fluently did better on the arrow test. The fluency of speech played a larger role than the duration of language learning – apparently because when you speak a foreign language, you constantly make mental efforts like those that you have to do in the arrow exercise, that is, you select the foreign word and do not obey cognitive inertia , which palms off the words of native speech. A brain with a foreign language worked better, that is, from this point of view, was younger than a brain of the same age, but without a foreign language.

Here, the influence of the second language on only one cognitive function of the brain was assessed. There is evidence that a foreign language also has a good effect on different types of memory, and in general on other aspects of higher nervous activity, and that even neurodegenerative diseases in people who regularly speak a foreign language begin several years later (if they begin at all) . To be fair, there are other studies on this subject with very different conclusions, and a few years ago we wrote about why few people know about such studies.


Source: Автономная некоммерческая организация "Редакция журнала «Наука и жизнь»" by www.nkj.ru.

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