You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. . . can you?

This proverb is, for the most part, untrue. The adult brain was once believed to be a fixed structure that, once damaged, could not be repaired. But since the 1960s we have known that this is wrong. The brain is highly adaptive and dynamic in response to new experiences and to injuries. We call this neuroplasticity. This suggests that one is never too old to learn something new. The only caveat is that it might take more effort to do so, because neuroplasticity decreases as we age.

Advantages for adults learning foreign languages

When it comes to learning a language some areas may be harder with age, others may be easier. ‘Older people have larger vocabularies than younger ones, so the chances are your vocabulary will be as large as a native’, says Albert Costa, a professor of neuroscience who studies bilingualism at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. So learning a a new language’s vocabulary is much easier for adults than children.

Most interestingly, there is research that suggests learning, say Italian, French or any other language, is beneficial for brain health. A number of recent studies intimate that learning a foreign language can slow age-related cognitive decline and perhaps even delay the onset of dementia.

Researchers at Edinburgh University examined the medical records of 648 Alzheimer’s patients. They found that those who were bilingual developed dementia later than monolinguals, by an average of four-and-a-half years. Lead researcher , Thomas Bak commented that for adults learning a foreign language later on in life might be more beneficial than learning it earlier. “Because it takes more effort … it has parallels with physical exercise – a stroll is good for your health, but not as beneficial as a run.”

If you’ve been thinking that it would be great to speak Spanish, German or even Mandarin – then don’t let your age put you off. It could actually be a great way of keeping mentally fit and healthy for years to come. Click here now for more information .