Christmas dinner at my house features a symphony of different languages. Over turkey and stuffing, it’s not unusual to hear German, Russian, English and French being thrown around. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that I have come to understand in a very personal way the value of learning a second language – or two or three – after the age of 60.
But, even if your family isn’t quite as culturally diverse as mine, there are plenty of reasons to consider brushing up on your language skills. Not only will learning a second language help you to communicate with multilingual family members better, but, it may help to keep your brain sharp in the decades ahead.
At this point, you may be having flashbacks to high-school French class, where learning a language meant memorizing verb charts and useless vocabulary. As one of my favorite comedians, Eddie Izzard, once said, “There are very few ways to fit ‘the monkey is in the tree’ into a conversation on an actual trip to France.”
The good news is that learning a language has never been easier. At the end of this article, I’ll give you a few of my favorite language learning resources. In the meantime, let’s explore a few of the benefits of learning a second language in your 60s.
Having been left out of my share of Russian conversations, I know firsthand how frustrating it is not to know what someone else is saying. It’s not that you worry that they might be saying something about you. It’s just that you want to be involved, without someone having to translate.
Looking at the numbers, I’m not alone in having to communicate in a bilingual family. A 2007 American Community Survey found that 55-million people in the United States speak a language other than English at home. With more people than ever choosing to marry someone from a different ethnic background, the number of us that will have the opportunity to interact with bilingual family members is only going to increase.
Rather than see this as a “challenge,” I choose to view it as an opportunity. Learning a second language can be an expensive and time consuming proposition. Having someone in your immediate family who is motivated to help you learn their language is a blessing!
Scientists have suspected for a long time that learning a second language is one of the best things that you can do for your brain. Now, thanks to recent studies, they are beginning to understand why. According to a Penn State University study, learning a second language rewires your brain and may increase the efficiency with which information is transferred from one area to the next.
This is a big deal! When I speak to the other women in the Sixty and Me community, they tell me that one of their main priorities is to keep their brains in shape in the coming decades. After all, our brains hold our identities, so, without a healthy mind, nothing else matters.
Some scientists are beginning to question whether brain games and other forms of mental training are effective. So, it’s nice to know that there are simple things, like exercise and learning a language, which can help us to keep our brains buzzing as we age.
Another priority of the women in the Sixty and Me community is travel. We don’t always have enough money to visit all of the places on our list, but, that doesn’t stop us from dreaming. Since money is a finite resource, we want to make the most out of every trip. We want to squeeze every journey dry fill our soul with positive emotions.
I can’t tell you how much learning a second language has helped me to enjoy my trips abroad. Even learning a few words will lead to experiences that you will never have if you stick to the tourist beat.
Some of my fondest memories are from conversations in train station coffee shops with fascinating strangers. Even if all I manage to do is order coffee in a loud voice, arms waving frantically in an attempt to spark understanding from the waiter, speaking a second language in another country is an amazing feeling. Next time you’re in another country, give it a try!
For most of us, learning a second language in school was a chore. The situation has changed considerably in the last few years.
If you are looking for free options for learning a second language, I would encourage you to check out Memrise.com. Memrise is a community based site where people share online notecards. It’s an excellent resource for memorizing vocabulary. Another free option is Duolingo, which offers French, Spanish, Italian, German and other languages online and on your phone.
If you don’t mind spending a bit of money to learn a second language, I would start with Pimsleur audio courses. They may feel a bit repetitive at times, but, they are an excellent way to learn the basics. Another paid option is Rosetta Stone. Their online courses are among the more expensive options out there, but, I love the fact that they make learning a language feel like a game.
There are so many reasons to learn a second language after 60. Not only will it help you to build better relationships with your bilingual family members, but, it will help you to get the most from life after 60. And, now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’d better get back to my Russian tape.
How many languages to you speak? Are you learning a second language after 60? What has your experience been? Please add your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to like and share this article if you enjoyed it.
Learning a second language is a great way to keep your brain in shape. For more information about the aging brain, please watch my interview with the entertaining and talented Dr. John Medina!
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