English is one of the world’s most widely-spoken languages, with more than 1 billion speakers worldwide. In contrast, the number of people who speak English as their native language is around 360 million. This means that more than half the world’s English speakers are bilingual. It seems that foreign languages are a dying art here in the UK, with only 11.5% of us feeling proficient in another tongue. However, it is never too late to start learning a foreign language, no matter your age. Today, we’ll be discussing the benefits of learning a foreign language as an older adult.
Did you study a foreign language at school? Lots of us might remember bits and pieces of our French or German lessons from back in the day. Nowadays, however, languages are no longer compulsory at GCSE. Since this change came into affect in 2004, the number of students taking French and German has fallen by more than 60%, while Spanish has actually seen an increase. Many people attribute this decline in language study to the perception that foreign language exams are more difficult to pass. Others suggest that Brexit is to blame. With fewer opportunities to work in Europe, perhaps teenagers feel less motivated to learn a European language.
But it’s not just the youngsters who are missing out. In a recent survey, more than half of British adults wished they hadn’t let their language skills from school slip. Whether you want to speak to friends or relatives in their native tongue, or keep up with the locals when you go on holiday, there are plenty of benefits to learning a second language.
Learning a Foreign Language Can Delay Dementia
A psychologist from Edinburgh University has discovered that bilingual people develop dementia on average 4-5 years later than those who only speak one language. In fact, a new enterprise in Scotland is offering foreign language lessons to care home residents. For an hour each week, elderly residents – many of whom have dementia – can learn French, Italian, German, or Spanish with tutors from Lingo Flamingo. Learners in one home wrote postcards to a twinned home in France, while another care home’s residents had a lesson with local schoolchildren.
Learning a foreign language in later life can improve your memory, attention span, and verbal communication. On average, bilingual people also have better outcomes after suffering a stroke.
Improve Your Self-Confidence
Part of learning a new language is making mistakes. While this can lead to the occasional embarrassing moment, language learning has been shown to boost confidence overall. Above all else, the sense of satisfaction you get from holding a conversation in your new language is truly unbeatable.
Your English Skills Will Improve Too
It might sound surprising, but learning a foreign language will also improve your understanding of your native tongue. This is because language learning makes you much more aware of the building blocks of language. Areas that might have confused you – grammar, syntax, conjugation and more – can become perfectly clear through the study of a foreign language.
Make New Connections
There is no doubt about it: speaking a foreign language opens lots of doors. If you go to group language classes, you will immediately have the chance to befriend and connect with new people. If you turn to online resources, there are message-boards and forums aplenty for you to make friends among your fellow students.
How to Start Learning a Foreign Language
Now you know the benefits of learning a foreign language, what’s the best way to get started? There are several different tried-and-tested methods you can choose from.
- Duolingo – This free app is making foreign languages more accessible than ever. You earn points as you learn useful vocabulary and essential grammar tips, competing with other learners on your local leaderboard. Duolingo currently offers courses in 36 languages, all for free!
- Open University – There are multiple free courses on offer from the Open University, from Beginners Mandarin to Intermediate French.
- Adult Learning Classes – Schools, colleges, and universities throughout the country offer adult language courses for speakers of all abilities. Evening classes like these can vary in price, depending on the course length and difficulty. You should also check out your local authority’s website to see whether they offer affordable language classes.
- Netflix – It might be a little unconventional, but more and more people are turning to TV to learn English. From Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp to Korean pop star RM, people the world over are watching shows like Friends to boost their learning. You can find plenty of foreign-language films and series on Netflix.
Tranquillité d’Espirit avec Lifeline24
(That’s ‘Peace of Mind With Lifeline24’ in French)
Learning a foreign language is a great way to look after your mind as you get older. Likewise, a personal alarm from Lifeline24 can help to keep you safe and independent at home. Our life-saving service supports thousands of elderly and disabled customers throughout the UK and Ireland. For more information, read our helpful guide to the alarm service here, or give us a call any time on 0800 999 0400.
You can order your Lifeline alarm online today to receive free next-working-day delivery.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on August 16th 2021 to reflect current information.