Boost your brain power, just in time for the European Day of Languages
Experts say the best time to learn a second – or third – language is when you’re young, 7 or under, perhaps because a child’s brain isn’t filled with concerns about paying bills, meeting a critical deadline or finding time to take the car in for repairs - while still making sure to attend this week’s after-school soccer practice.
Still, we’re never too old to learn...given that our planet includes more than 7 billion people who speak a variety of different languages, a new language is a great place to start.
And even though the old adage you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is still around, learning a new language doesn’t have to feel like a daunting task.
That’s why Sept. 26 is set aside every year as the European Day of Languages, designed to not only celebrate the melting pot of cultures that make up the continent, but also to encourage those living there – or elsewhere, for that matter – to give learning another language a try. (Ref. 1)
And as it turns out, we’re really not too old, after all.
An aging brain? Phooey
According to a recent study, it could be the way we teach children versus adults – not an aging brain - that makes learning a new language easier for kids, linguists say.
“If adults make a mistake, we don't correct them because we don't want to insult them,” Sara Ferman of Israel’s Tel Aviv University told New Scientist magazine.
To test the theory, Ferman and colleagues conducted an experiment during which 5-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 12-year-olds and adults were taught a new language rule, one invented expressly for the experiment.
When they were tested two months later, “adults were consistently better in everything we measured,” Ferman said, suggesting that they also have a greater potential to learn new languages. (Ref. 2)
Improving our memories, one tip at a time
Of course, that doesn’t mean that as we age our memories might not decline.
Almost everyone has walked into a room, only to wonder what exactly they were doing there, and sometimes, names of acquaintances we encounter on the street just fade away, lost amid the jumble of phone numbers, movie titles and maps that populate our memory.
Some tips to maintain memory:
- Pay as much attention to your brain as your body. Your brain is your body’s most important part, and it needs regular workouts to stay fit. Read, do crossword puzzles and learn something new – like a language, perhaps? – say the experts at the Mayo Clinic. (Ref. 3)
- Get a good night’s sleep. At night, our brain consolidates our memories, like filing them away into the cabinets of our brain. If we’re well rested, we’re more likely to be able to pull the files and recall the memories packed inside.
- Exercise regularly. By increasing blood flow to all parts of the body including the brain, you will be better able to keep it healthy and able to do its job, including maintaining memory.
- As we learn new things, teach others, as well. By going over what we’ve learned again, it becomes more cemented into our memory bank. (Ref. 4)
- Eat a healthy diet. The right foods – especially long-chain fatty acids such as omega-3s in fish and fish oil – can help improve brain function.
Supplements can make a difference
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