SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE; Life Coach Tracy Dempsey Explains the Mental, Psychological and Practical Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language

Sunday Mirror (London, England), January 25, 2015 | Go to article overview

SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE; Life Coach Tracy Dempsey Explains the Mental, Psychological and Practical Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language


Byline: Tracy Dempsey

In last week's column I talked about how the language - the words, descriptions and stories - we use affects our wellbeing. In Week Four of my '10 Weeks to Wellbeing' series, I described the benefits of lifelong learning.

This week I'm going to put the two together and share some of the mental, psychological and practical benefits of learning a foreign language.

INCREASED CONFIDENCE

In my workshops and coaching I describe confidence as being a combination of two factors; self-esteem - how we feel about our value or worth, and self-efficacy - how we feel about our ability to do a task.

Our educational experiences can have a big impact on either or both. Young students and their teachers can wrongly interpret 'poor' academic performance as meaning they're 'no good' at a subject.

Worse, they can interpret it more widely as meaning they're 'stupid' - one word I would suggest banning from your vocabulary! But many factors affect academic success; motivation, workload, social factors and whether a teacher's particular style is a match for a student's learning style.

Memories of grammar drills, vocabulary lists, unnaturalsounding dialogues and whacky songs put many people off learning a foreign language in later life. But learning a language now can be a very different experience.

For those who like the structure of classes, contact with teachers and formal qualifications, night classes are popular. For people who prefer to learn outside the classroom there are podcasts and language learning CDs for learning at home or on the go. Apps make language learning easy and fun. Internet radio, online films/programmes and online newspapers allow you to immerse yourself in a language, to an extent. For conversation, local language learner meet-ups and online 'language cafes' allow you to find fellow learners and native speakers who are keen to trade conversation in yours. See dreamdolove.com for useful links and resources.

If you previously had a negative experience of language learning the tools available these days could restore damaged confidence. Otherwise, proving to yourself (and perhaps to others) that you're capable of learning new skills is great for your confidence - too many people stop themselves from discovering or developing abilities with a simple but powerful 'I don't think I could do that'. At the very least wouldn't It feel great to be able to read signs or order your food and drink in the locals' language in your favourite holiday destination?

DELAYED AGEING

Language learning has been found to have a protective effect against cognitive decline. In a study of 184 elderly patients with signs of dementia who attended a Toronto memory clinic between 2002 and 2005, bilingual patients had an onset of dementia symptoms at an average age of 75.5 years, whilst the monolingual group began to experience symptoms at 71.4 years.

Further research by Edinburgh University and Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India published in November 2013 studied 648 people from a range of economic and educational backgrounds.

The researchers found a similar result; symptoms of dementia showed up on average 4.5 years later in bilinguals compared to people who only spoke one language. The results even held true for people who were bilingual but illiterate, suggesting the benefits don't depend on education. …

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