Learning and speaking two or more languages has been shown to protect your brain as it ages, even if you learn another language as an adult. For the study, researchers followed 835 people born in Scotland in 1936 whose first language was English. At age 11, participants were given a mental skills test and then were given the test again in their 70’s. When the second test was given at the age of 70, 262 participants were able to speak at least two languages, with 195 of them learning a second language before age 18, and the rest after that age.
Researchers found that those participants who spoke two or more languages did better on the mental skills tests when they were older, especially in the areas of general intelligence and reading. “These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain,” concluded study author Dr. Thomas Bak, from the Centre for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh. This is the first study to take into account childhood intelligence while examining whether learning a second language affects mental skills later in life, added Bak.
Although the study did find a relationship between knowing a second language and having greater intelligence later in life, this does not prove a cause-and-effect link between the two.