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Workout for the brain


My tai chi teacher is taking Mandarin lessons. He’s a native speaker of Cantonese. He told us the other day: “Just as tai chi is good for the body, learning a foreign language is good for the mind”.

We can learn a language at any age. Learning a language gives the brain a workout.  Among the many benefits of learning the language is that, according to the latest research, it develops the “executive function”, which is the area in the brain which controls the ability to suppress irrelevant distractions.  The discipline to switch between one language system and another strengthens this function of the brain.

So, for children who speak at least two languages, the benefits of a more efficient brain will increase their mental capacity for all the studying that they will have to do, and all the thinking that they will do throughout their lives.  For adults, one of the great advantages of being bilingual is that it can delay the onset of dementia for up to five years. Lifetime benefits!

So start learning a language! It’s fun!

Our toddler 20 month old granddaughter lives too far away for us to see her at this time of the year, so we Skype. Since our daughter works, they have an au pair girl from Colombia who speaks to her in Spanish. We want her to know two languages. She still does a lot of baby talk, but she says a few words that we can understand, like “Hi, baby”, “book”, “baba” is bottle, and agua for water. The other day, her parents sent a video where she is in a park. Some ducks were passing, and my daughter said: ¡Hola, patos! Hi, ducks! The baby repeated. She is repeating more these days. She said pato the next day when we skyped. We were thrilled!

If you have small children, start them with another language now. The sooner you start, the better their pronunciation will be.

I have been writing guest posts about how monolingual parents can get their kids started learning a language, and I will be writing about that soon on our blog.