Speaking More Than one Language Like English & Spanish can Offset Dementia Symptoms, Delay Aging

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Feb 15, 2016 11:00 AM EST

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 22: (L-R) New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Her Majesty Queen Letizia of Spain, and Victoria Hunt , the principal at Dos Puentes Elementary School, visit a kindergarten class during a visit to Dos Puentes Elementary School September 22, 2014 in New York City. Queen Letizia welcomed Dos Puentes Elementary as a member to the International Spanish Academies (ISA), a partnership with Spain to share resources and encourage bilingual education. (Photo by Charles Eckert-Pool/Getty Images) (Photo : Charles Eckert-Pool/Getty Images)

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting held in Washington DC last Saturday shed light on how bilingualism can not only help impart knowledge and cultural understanding, but can also help benefit a person's health by improving one's thinking skills and mental agility, delay brain ageing and protect from initial symptoms of dementia, Eurekalert reports.

Professor Antonella Sorace, founder of the Bilingualism Matters Centre at the University of Edinburgh is conducting research on the benefits of studying and using minority languages that are soon to become extinct, such as Sardinian and Scottish Gaelic. Prof. Sorace pointed out that the health benefits that come with learning a second or even third language are just one reason why these languages should still be used today.

"So many of these languages will die, sooner rather than later, because if a language is not learnt by children, that language is dead," Prof. Sorace said, as per Daily Mail. "If we can find a way of persuading people that these languages are actually a resource, rather than a problem, or folklore or something that belongs to the past, then we can help these languages to survive a little bit longer and children can have the benefits of bilingualism."

Such benefits include a better understanding of people, better ability of focusing one's attention, and slower rates of mental decline. Prof. Sorace conducted a study of retired people who undergone a seven-day intensive course in Gaelic on the Isle of Skye, and found that those who were doing languages courses had shown improvements in tests of attention and thinking.

But learning languages is beneficial not just to the elderly, but also in the young. Reuters reports that a new study has revealed how toddlers who already speak two languages can better solve a particular kind of problem solving that requires knowledge of when to change up the rules compared to their peers who speak only one language.

"We observed that within the bilingual group those who became more bilingual over seven months (learning more doublets or cross-language synonyms) benefited even more," senior author Diane Poulin-Dubois of Concordia University in Montreal told Reuters.

"It is known that both languages are active all the time so that requires keeping one out of the way as you speak the other. This practice in selective attention and inhibitory control is a mental exercise that is reflected outside language in a context where you have to avoid being distracted by other stimuli or well known rules," Poulin-Dubois further explained. However, scientists encourage that in order to increase and maintain the health benefits, it's best to use both languages.

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