The joys and benefits of learning a new language

Jan 17, 2012, 6 a.m.

One of the nice things about retirement is having the time to pursue interests you never could fit into your busy schedule when you were working. For many people, one such desire is learning a second (or third or fourth) foreign language. This is made easier by the fact that many colleges and learning institutions allow those over a certain age (generally 55 or 60) to audit classes for free. You just have to pay for the text book and any materials.

Learning a language brings with it many joys and benefits...at any age. Just a few of these are:

  1. Learning about a new culture(s). A country or region's language is inextricably linked to its food, art, customs, religion and history. Learning even a few words and phrases of a new tongue opens the door to another way of looking at the world.
  2. Keeping your mind sharp. Several studies, including one done by the American Association for the Advancement of Science , have shown that bilingual people may have an advantage over mono-lingual folks in staving off dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Although the benefits are greatest in those that have spoken two or more languages since childhood, even those who acquired the second language in middle age or later show less incidences of dementia.
  3. Reading literature in its original language. If you've ever had the privilege of reading a classic in its original language, you know about the nuances and the cultural references that often get misplaced in the translation. Being able to read the actual words a foreign author wrote is a priceless gift.
  4. Conversing with locals when you travel. Not to be overlooked is the prime reason many people learn a second language -- to be able to talk to people in their native language when they travel. Even knowing a few words can make getting directions, checking into a hotel and ordering food in a restaurant much easier. With a little more knowledge, you can discuss local events, history and politics with the people who live in your travel destination.

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