You might be wondering, what are the benefits of learning a second language at an older age? I researched this question and created this list of benefits of learning a second language when you’re getting older. I’ll also share some tips on how you can easily learn a language when you’re getting older.
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If you want to learn a second language using a smartphone application, I recommend using Busuu. Busuu is known as the best language learning application, and it was named the #1 Language Learning Application of 2020. Over 100 million people worldwide use Busuu to learn a second language. So, if you can’t wait, start learning right away with Busuu.
1) Learning a Second Language Helps With Healthy Aging
Things that help with healthy aging are important when you reach an older age. Learning new things helps to keep your mind sharp and fit, and with healthy aging. When learning a new language, when you get older, these benefits are getting even stronger.
According to Dr. Ipsit Vahia, director of geriatric outpatient services for Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, learning new things is similar to training your muscles to keep your strength. In this article on Harvard Health Publishing, he mentions that you train your muscles to improve your overall health when you exercise. The same concept applies to our brain; you need to challenge it with exercises to keep it healthy.
A great brain exercise is learning new things, like learning a new language. If you really want to get the most out of these benefits, you must be getting out of your comfort zone. According to this study, doing some simple exercises like learning a few new words in a different language doesn’t cut it.
The study examined two groups of older people between the age of 60 and 90 years old. The first group was learning more challenging skills. For the study, they learned digital photography. However, learning a new language also applies as a learning a challenging skill. The second group did only some easy brain exercises, like doing crossword puzzles everyday.
The group that did the challenging skills showed more improvement in different brain activities like overall memory.
Another research published in the Annals of Neurology in 2014 shows that people who can speak two or more languages may slow down cognitive decline from aging, even when they learned the second or third language at an older age.
There’s a lot of research available that proves the health benefits of learning a second or even third language. However, being bilingual, meaning that you can speak multiple languages, has a lot more benefits. Let’s look at the other benefits of learning a second language at an older age.
2) Learning A Second Language Increases Social Interactions
When you’re able to speak multiple languages, it’s easier to connect with people who speak that language as well. For example, when your neighbors can only speak Spanish, and you just learned Spanish, it’s easier to connect with them. It’s also a great way to improve your Spanish!
Or when you enjoy travel adventures in other countries, it’s easier to connect with locals if you can speak the local language.
So, you can say that learning a new language helps you to improve your social interactions. If you want to improve your language skills in a particular language, you can connect with native speakers. And when traveling, it’s easier to get around with the locals. Staying socially active is known as one of the most important factors when it comes to healthy aging.
According to this article on Harvard Health Publishing, having many social interactions, or as they say, a rich web of human relationships stimulates your mind and memory loss. If you want to learn more about staying socially active in retirement, I recommend reading my article How Do I Socialize After Retirement?
Having multiple social interactions in the language, you’re learning helps you to learn that specific language easier. I’m bilingual myself. I’m a native Dutch speaker and learned English and Spanish when I was still in college. I learned the basics of both languages at school. However, I truly learned to speak both languages when I had many social interactions in that language for a longer period. For example, when I was still in college, I worked at a summer camp in the US for a few months. We could only speak English together, and after a while, I started my dream were even in English! That’s when I realized I became fluent in English.
Social interactions both benefit your health and your knowledge of a foreign language.
3) You Get A Better Cultural Understanding When Being Bilingual
As I mentioned earlier, it’s easier to connect with your Spanish-speaking neighbor when you speak Spanish. Or to connect with local people during traveling when you speak the local language. However, when you’re truly fluent in a language, you’ll get a much better understanding of the culture of a country as well. You don’t even have to travel for it, which is, of course, a great thing to do when you’re retired. But you can easily learn more about a specific country if you understand the language.
For example, many older people love reading books , and sometimes it’s easier to get a translation into your native language. In my experience, you sometimes miss out on things when you read a translation. Certain jokes or cultural sayings translated in English are different than in, let’s say, Dutch or Spanish. So it’s more fun to read those books in the original language.
During traveling, when you connect with locals and speak the local language, you can truly have a conversation that’s not limited to ‘who are you, nice to meet you,’ or ‘what a beautiful place.’
Having an actual conversation with a local in their native language teaches you so much more about their culture. It’s interesting and refreshing! Another great way of learning new things!
4) You Can Make Use Of Your Large Vocabulary
Many people say that it’s easier to learn a second language when you’re younger. Yes, younger people can adapt easier and maybe learn more things at once easier. However, when you learn a new language at an older age, you can use your knowledge you gathered over time.
For example, your vocabulary, even when you can only speak one language. When you’re older, you just learned much more words and sayings in that language than younger people. Using this knowledge in a different language helps you to learn these sayings easier. Younger people often start to learn different words. It’s easier to relate to sentences and sayings when you’re older, so you’re able to speak that new language faster.
5) Use Your Learning Techniques
Another benefit of learning a second language at an older age is knowing which learning techniques work best for you.
Over the past years, you learned all kinds of new things. Maybe you even completed a specific course not too long ago. Or you developed a new skill or hobby during your retirement. Either way, you know how you learn new things the best.
Use this knowledge to your benefit. If you learn new things the best by reading, try to start reading a book using translation in that second language. Or maybe you’re learning the best by following a video course, then find a language video course.
Like I said at the start of this article, Busuu is one of the best language learning applications you can use. When using Busuu, you can learn a language at different skill levels, from beginner to upper-intermediate. If you finished the last level, you’re able to join a more difficult conversation in that language, like discussing important things in life or following the local news. You can learn more about the application Busuu here.
6) Learning A Second Language Improves Decision-Making Skills
Sometimes it’s not easy to decide on a specific topic. Life choices, financial decisions, or other things that can influence your happiness are often decided based on facts and personal feelings. However, researchers from the University of Chicago found that if you’re bilingual, you’re able to think through a specific problem or choice in your non-native language. This allows you to create a whole different point of view on a topic.
In fact, when you’re fluent in a second language, you can even consider cultural points of view or discuss them with someone from that country.
According to the study, people who make decisions in a foreign language are more likely to focus on the potential outcome of that decisions instead. When making a decision in our native language, we tend to focus more on potential losses and problems instead of the benefits.
7) Learning A Second Language Keeps You Busy
Staying busy at an older age or when you’re retired is important for your health and feeling of happiness. Have you ever heard of the world’s Blue Zones?
The Blue Zones are specific areas in the world where people get much older than average. These areas even have the most centenarians, people who healthily reach the age of 100+. They all have a similar lifestyle, and one of the most important facts is that they stay busy and active until old age.
So, instead of doing nothing all the time, it is important to create goals and stay busy when you get older. Learning a second language at an older age keeps you busy, and as we discussed in this article, it has many other health benefits.
If you truly want to challenge yourself, why stop after learning a second language? When you’re using the application Busuu, you can easily start a new language course in a different tongue if you finished your first course. This way, you can become fluent in more languages and truly become bilingual!
8) Learning A Second Language Improves Your Native Tongue
When learning a second language, you’re also learning many new words, sayings, and the grammar of that specific language. Learning all these new things also improves your native tongue because you need to translate it into your first language to process it.
9) Learning A Second Language Improves Listening
Learning a second language also helps if you want to become a better listener. When listening to someone in a foreign language, you truly need to pay attention to understanding its meaning.
Knowing the meaning of words is different than understanding them in a conversation. When having a conversation, you need to understand nuances, accents, cultural jokes, etcetera. Listening with attention automatically improves your listening skills.
10) Learning A Second Language Keeps You Modern
With globalization in mind and the great chance that you’re traveling much more when you get older or are retired, you want to join the modern-day society. When you’re traveling to Europe, you’ll get a much better understanding of the countries’ cultural aspects if you can speak multiple European languages.
According to this article on Busuu, Spanish, French, and Portuguese are all in the top-10 most spoken languages worldwide.
Best Language Learning Application For Learning A Language (At An Older Age)
With all these benefits of learning a second language at an older age in mind, you probably wonder which application is best for learning that second or maybe third language.
I already mentioned a few times the application Busuu. This application is the easiest to use and best to become truly fluent in a second language because it gives you the possibility to have real conversations, speech recognition, and native speaker models. When following a Spanish, French, German, or English course, you can take a certified test to measure your progress. The language courses on Busuu have a McGraw-Hill Education certification.
The easy interface and possibility to take these different tests make Busuu stand out from other language learning applications like Babbel or Duolingo. Busuu has even named the #1 language learning application of 2020, has a high customer review on both Google PlayStore and the Apple Appstore.
As a Busuu student, you get access to the Busuu community, which allows you to get to know other students. It also helps you to stay motivated if learning that second language is getting a bit difficult at a certain point. You can share your progress and goals with other students. A great benefit of this community is that you can also speak with other students in the language you’re trying to learn, which is not only fun but also speeds up the process of language learning! Learn more about Busuu here.