Mental agility can be boosted by even a short period of learning a language, a study suggests.
Tests carried out on students of all ages suggest that acquiring a new language improves a person’s attention, after only a week of study.
Researchers also found that these benefits could be maintained with regular practice.
A team from the University assessed different aspects of mental alertness in a group of 33 students aged 18 to 78 who had taken part in a one-week Scottish Gaelic course.
Researchers tracked people’s attention levels with a series of listening tests including the ability to concentrate on certain sounds and switch the attention to filter relevant information.
They compared the results with those of people who had completed a one week course – but not involving learning a new language – and with a group who had not completed any course.
After one week, improvements in attention were found in both groups participating in intensive courses, but only those learning a second language were significantly better than those not involved in any courses.
This improvement was found for all ages, from 18 to 78 years, which researchers say demonstrates the benefits of language learning also in later life.
Nine months after the initial course all those who had practiced five hours or more per week improved from their baseline performance.
The researchers say this shows the mental skills gained from language learning can be maintained if speakers practice continuously.
Lead researcher, Dr. Thomas Bak of the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences said the results confirm the cognitive benefits of language learning.
The study was completed with the help of students from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic language and culture on the Isle of Skye, which forms part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.
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News source: The University of Edinburgh. The content is edited for length and style purposes.
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