Learning a second language is a “powerful tool” for older adults to maintain a healthy lifestyle, according to a 2019 study by researchers at D’Annunzio University of Chieti–Pescara in Italy.
Studies suggest that learning a new language can delay symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and preserve brain plasticity, which allows the brain to change and learn new skills.
Brains naturally lose plasticity with age, but Roxana Botezatu, assistant professor in the MU Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, said learning a new language as an older adult is possible even if it is more difficult than learning as a child.
Frequent practice in a new language is a reliable way of learning because practice improves retrieval.
“The more times you attempt to say a word, you’re building a pathway to it,” she said.
Columbia residents have a few options if they are interested in taking casual language classes.
• Centro Latino, 609 N. Garth Ave., offers weekly Spanish classes for $10 per class with payment for a minimum of four classes required in advance. Classes are held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays. For more information, contact the instructor, Blanca Kelly, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The Daniel Boone Regional Library system offers an online service called Transparent Language Online, which gives the user tools to learn any of 80 different languages.
• A variety of online language classes, self-paced or with a tutor, are also available for a fee through the Columbia Area Career Center.
Apps can be accessible tools for learning a new language. Botezatu said the most effective apps allow the learner to retrieve words on their own and remember what words the learner is able to accurately retrieve. This allows the learner to focus on the words that may be more difficult to them. Examples of apps include Duolingo, Rosetta Stone and Babbel.
Apps are helpful for independent learning, but language immersion is the best method for becoming proficient in a new language, Botezatu said. Living in a place where a new language is spoken, even if it is only for a few months, is the shortest path to fluency. .
“It’s going to be very hard at the beginning, and one will feel silly for being unable to use the level of linguistic sophistication that they usually use in their native language,” she said. “But over time, overcoming that hurdle of difficulty is going to pay off.”.
Regular practice should be beneficial to learners who are unable to travel, according to Botezatu.
“Engaging in practice on a daily basis, even for half an hour, is going to pay off in the long run, as opposed to just waiting for that trip to Italy in the summer.
“Language is like any other muscle. You have to use it or else you lose it,” she said.