A new study clarifies the beneficial effects that learning a foreign language can have on the brain. Even if the lessons start late in adult life, as brain function naturally decreases, they can help ward off dementia. This builds on existing research that shows, for bilingual adults, Alzheimer’s setting in an average of four years later – at 75 instead of 71. The data is strong enough to suggest that the NHS ought to consider encouraging patients, especially the elderly, to try their hand at a new language.
Besides the travel opportunities, the sense of achievement that comes with such study might appeal. As the number of people suffering from dementia is expected to rise to over a million by 2021, prevention needs to take its place near the top of the health service’s agenda – and language-learning should now be packaged up with exercise, the other preventative tool backed up by a number of neurological investigations. It is a sad fact that the best time to treat the disease is before it’s even begun. In this case, drugs can only smooth the descent.
We have yet to fully turn the corner in embracing foreign languages, though there are positive signs in the education system. After decades of decline, the number of students choosing to study French, German and Spanish increased last year – and from this year all will be required to study one foreign language between the ages of seven and 14. Now we know that the benefits of language-learning are not limited to the young, there is all the more reason for parents to join in.
Because it will be a while yet before English-to-French translators can hang up their dictionaries and hand the work over to Google Translate.
With thanks to the University of Pennsylvania’s Language Log.
posted by Simon Kemp
There are lots more than a hundred good reasons to study modern languages, but if I’m going to drip-feed them to you at one reason per post, and no more than a couple of posts per month on this topic, then a hundred will keep us going nicely for a while. Many of these reasons are about the pleasures of discovering a foreign culture, exploring its history, literature and film. Others are about learning to handle another language confidently, discovering how languages work, how they develop, and how your own language connects with or differs from the language you’re learning. Still others will be about the experience of meeting new people on your year abroad, getting by in an exciting, unfamiliar environment and broadening your horizons. But of course, in the age of tuition fees and economic austerity, we also need some hard, cold facts about your prospects for employment and earnings at the end of your degree. Luckily, as well as being one of the most stimulating, adventurous and intellectually fulfilling choices of university course, a modern languages degree aces the career statistics too. So let’s start there.
Counting down, then, we’ll begin with Good Reason to Study Modern Languages at University, Number 100…
The Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey asks recent UK university graduates what they are doing six months after graduation. The most recent data is from graduates in 2012, which found that only 9% of modern languages graduates were unemployed six months after graduating. That compares with 10% unemployment rates for business studies, engineering, architecture and physical sciences, 11% in creative arts and design, 12% in media studies and 14% unemployment for computer science graduates. In fact, only teaching, law and medical/biological sciences have lower unemployment rates than modern languages for their graduates.
So modern linguists go on to many different things after graduation, but the dole queue is not one of them. We’ll delve further into these Destination of Leavers statistics later on to find out more about what these graduates are actually doing, but I thought this might be the most important place to start.