There is no doubt whatsoever about the benefits of learning a second language. It is proven to keep your brain active and may help prevent or offset dementia.  An article I read recently offered a list of some of the benefits:

 Enhanced Problem Solving Skills.
 Improved Verbal and Spatial Abilities.
 Improved Memory Function (long & short-term)
 Enhanced Creative Thinking Capacity.
 Better Memory.
 More Flexible and Creative Thinking.

 Improved Attitude Toward the Target Language and Culture.

It was that last one that caught my eye. In the UK we have many regions which are beautifully multi-national, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual. In some of these areas there are a large number of older people who are not as conversant with the English language. Unfortunately this can result in a very small minority of people suffering from a lack of interest in gaining knowledge and understanding of different people and their cultures.
Research from Gronigen University in the Netherlands suggests that limited second language proficiency can detrimentally affect older people’s ageing processes. It’s not difficult to see why this might be. For example, an ageing immigrant in the UK who doesn’t speak English very well is quite likely to be anxious in social situations which require communication in English. This can result in people turning inwards and communicating only with others (usually their family) who speak their native language. This relative isolation becomes self-reinforcing, with these elderly immigrants struggling to find a wider social support network.  I think we can all vouch for the negative outcomes of an enforced isolation given the 18 months we have all experienced. The researchers at Gronigen postulate that such isolation also has effects on the ageing process for these older migrants without a second language.

Having someone local who makes them feel good about their own culture (whilst not denigrating that of the host nation), is usually a positive thing for people. It is undoubtedly important for migrant communities to become assimilated into their new country, but on the other hand the language and culture of their home country can get devalued in the process. Getting the balance right is crucial and it’s here that the last item on that list above comes into play. By understanding each other’s cultures and languages we can improve attitudes and acceptance of all cultures that make up the brilliant landscape of the UK. Think of how you learn a few words of Spanish, Greek or Italian when you go on holiday. I’ve always found that local people really appreciate the effort when you say “gracias,” “efharistó” or “grazie.” It is a two way street where all parties benefit when they are able to communicate. And learning a new language is one of the best ways to do this – whether it’s a few words in Hindi or Urdu or being able to converse in fluent Brummie or Glaswegian!

Fiona Woodford, Head of Language Services, Global Connects

PS – if anyone would like to learn English or Spanish to keep their brain active and learn more about other cultures, our sister companies, Glasgow School of English and Lorca Spanish can help!