Bilingualism helps stave off Alzheimer’s

This recent report is an old story, but I never tire of reading about it.  I am assuming that multilingual people are even more protected from Alzheimer's. No why is it that I seem to forgetting things, and misplacing things more and more?

According to the research;

"Bilingualism helps protect the aging brain and may even postpone signs of dementia, a new review of recent studies indicates.

The paper by Canadian researchers, published Thursday, suggests bilingual people have higher cognitive reserves as they get older. Higher cognitive reserve is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's and other memory-destroying dementias.


It's not exactly clear why. But one theory is that managing two different languages boosts brain regions that are critical for general attention and cognitive control.

"We know that if you know two languages, and that there are two languages you could be speaking at any time, then both of those languages are always active – they're always kind of 'available' in your mind," she said.

"That means that every time you want to say something or understand something or write something, there's potential interference from the other language."

When that happens, the brain's executive-control system kicks in to man-age the conflict between languages.

The executive-control system is the basis for our ability to multi-task and to stay focused on what's relevant and avoid distraction.

In bilinguals, that brain network gets "massive practice," said Bialystok, a Distinguished Research Professor at York.

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Why I am unlikely to learn Esperanto.

After my recent post about Esperanto, I received a number of comments, many from irate Esperanto enthusiasts, berating me for not considering Esperanto an important language to learn.

This has caused me to reflect on my motivation for learning languages. Remember, motivation is 70% of the battle in language learning. I am motivated mostly to discover a new culture and language and group of people . As soon as I get past the beginner texts, I dive into the following, using LingQ, and a variety of sources, books and audio books and material I can find on the web..

1) I enjoy histories of the country, which I read and listen to in the language. I have done this for all the languages I have learned, and most recently for Russian and Czech.

2) I read newspapers online and listen to radio programs and podcasts, with transcripts where possible,  to get a flavour of the contemporary scene, issues and concerns, in the country where the language is spoken.

3) I like literature, especially 19th century literature, for which audio and text is largely available free of charge for import into LingQ.

Once I have developed a sufficient level of familiarity with the language and the country, I want to go there and experience it first hand. This is my reward, and a dream like experience, as was recently the case in Russia and will be the case in October in Prague.

4) In many cases I have done business in the languages I have learned, which has enabled me to make friends, and to achieve a degree of success that would otherwise not be possible. It is also satisfying to use th language in this practical way.

Essentially none of this would be possible with Esperanto. I could read the literature, history or newspapers of no country. I could not travel and use the language unless I went to a dedicated meet up of Esperanto speakers, where I might find some of the people who have called me arrogant, nonsensical, illogical and prejudiced in commenting on my previous post here.

But then I would not travel just to meet up with non-native speakers of any other language, so I don’t think I would do so for Esperanto. But I accept that others would do so and enjoy it. I respect their interest in this undoubtedly intellectually satisfying activity. I respect their motives. I would hope that they would also respect and understand my reasons for not wanting to join them.

What is fluency?

A former Mayor of Vancouver has launched a program called “greeting fluency” in which he wants to encourage people in Vancouver to learn to greet one another in different languages. Being able to say “hello” and “how are you”, without any chance of understanding the response, and without really knowing how you sound, strikes me as a gimmick, that has nothing to do with fluency.

In my view, the most important aspect of fluency is being able to understand what is being said. I have worked with, and done business with, people who spoke English as a foreign language. I would far rather deal with someone who stumbled in expressing him or herself, but obviously understood exactly what I wanted to say. Similarly,I am far more uncomfortable when I don’t understand someone in a foreign language than when I make mistakes or struggle to find the best words or phrases.

Fluency is comfort in the language. There is no fluency without strong comprehension skills. “Greeting fluency” is largely meaningless from a language learning perspective. It might, however, inititiate someone into the world of language learning, generate an interest in a different language and culture, in getting to know people from a different milieu through language. So it might still have some benefits. However, mostly it just seems like the kind of thing that politicians do.

The world is full of linguists!

I finally returned from my trip to the Cook Islands, New Zealand and Australia. I loved the layed back tropical paradise atmosphere of Roratonga, the green and clean nature of New Zealand, and the energy and optimism of Australia, and friendly people everywhere. But more than that, I was impressed by all the excellent and enthusiastic linguists (in the sense of competent speakers of many languages) that I met. Here are some more pictures. I also met with Cooper in Brisbane at the University of Queensland but it was raining and we were rushed, so no picture, sorry!

Here are some pictures, first of all, of Sydney linguists Alexis on the right, and Roy. Alexis speaks French and English flawlessly, being himself from New Caledonia. Roy is a programmer and speaks French, as well as Arabic, some Tagalog, and Aussie English of course, and is working on other languages including Indonesian if I remember correctly. He may correct me here.

Next are Andrew (in the middle) and Robert, both into multiple languages as well as computer programming. Robert in particular has an ability that stretches from Mandarin and Cantonese to Russian, Ukrainian, German and a few more, while Andrew is fluent in French and Chinese at least. We had a lively dinner with my wife Carmen in a Chinese restaurant in Sydney’s Chinatown.

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Raratonga, paradise

My wife and I are loving our first visit to the Southern Hemisphere. Our first stop was Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Rarotonga is only 10 hours from Los Angeles. A delightful little island, 32 km in circumference. There are two bus routes, clockwise and counterclockwise. We rented a scooter. The speed limit is 50 km if you wear a helmet and 40 km if you don’t. We didn’t. No one is in a hurry. The weather is warm and nice, and it occasionally rains. If you keep driving on the scooter, it will stop. Snorkeling, turquoise water and beaches all around, lots of fish to eat and friendly people with a fascinating culture. What more do you need?

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