Did you know that approximately 43% of the world’s population speaks more than one language, also known as being bilingual? That’s almost 1 in every 2 people all over the world.
The country where the most languages are spoken is Papua New Guinea, with 840 active languages. After that is Indonesia, followed by Nigeria and India.
The top 5 most widely-spoken languages in the world are English, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, and French.
Clearly knowing more than 1 language is common, and for good reason!
Keep reading to learn how being bilingual benefits the brain and may even delay the development of dementia.
How Many People are Bilingual in the US?
According to the US Census Bureau, 21.6% of people in the US speak a language other than English at home, or 1 in 5 adults. And this percentage does not count the people who speak another language fluently but do not use it at home.
In Florida, 29.4% of households reported speaking a non-English language as their primary language, which is higher than the national average. This percentage increases to over 40% in the region of South Florida.
What are the Most Popular Languages in the US?
The most popular non-English language in the US is Spanish, with over 41 million Spanish speakers across the country. The next most popular language is Chinese and its different variations. After that are Tagalog (Filipino), Vietnamese, French and French Creole, Arabic, Korean, Russian, and German.
In 2020, the most common non-English language spoken in Florida was Spanish, with 21.8% of households. The second and third most common non-English languages in Florida were Haitian and Portuguese.
Bilingualism and the Brain
Learning another language is an item on many people’s bucket lists. Being bilingual allows you to communicate with more people, travel internationally with ease, and have a leg up in the workforce.
But there is another, lesser known benefit of being bilingual: it may help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Research and Studies about Bilingualism and the Brain
There are many studies being conducted around the world about the benefits of bilingualism on the brain.
For example, a study of hundreds of older adults in Germany found that those who spoke 2 languages daily from a young age scored higher on tests of memory, learning, language, focus, attention and self control than those who only spoke 1 language.
Similar results were found in a study of 85 people in Italy. All participants were at a similar stage of dementia, but the bilingual people in the study were an average of 5 years older than the monolingual people. Despite their older age, the bilingual people had increased connections in areas of the brain involved with executive control. Increased connectivity in these parts of the brain has been shown to help prevent or delay dementia.
Other research has shown that symptoms of Alzheimer’s are delayed by up to an average of 5 years in people who speak more than one language fluently. These results suggest that bilingualism acts as a “cognitive reserve” that strengthens the brain’s circuits that help fight off symptoms of dementia.
To that end, because people who are bilingual switch fluently between 2 languages, it is believed that they can also apply these same mental skills to other areas that protect against dementia, such as multitasking, managing emotions, and self control.
In short, researchers believe that learning and using a second language is difficult and therefore requires the brain to work harder. This challenge for the mind creates new neural pathways as others fade with age, which benefits overall brain health.
Implications of Being Bilingual
While being bilingual from a young age has been shown to be more effective for delaying dementia, researchers say it is never a bad idea to start learning another language later in life. In fact, being bilingual provides protective benefits at any age, even as an older adult.
Furthermore, scientists believe that any new activity that “shocks the system” – for example, using another language, writing with your non-dominant hand, or taking a new route home – challenges the brain in a way that opens new pathways and networks. All of these activities can help combat the onset of dementia.
Ways to Learn Another Language
Full immersion is considered one of the most effective ways to learn a new language. But, traveling abroad or being fully immersed in a language is not always accessible or practical. Luckily, with modern technology, there are endless ways to learn a new language later in life from the comfort of your own home.
There are plenty of apps and programs that help you learn a new language. Some favorites include Duolingo, which has over 40 languages available, and Babbel, which has 13 languages available. Rosetta Stone is another popular language learning software for 25 different languages. And, there are even hundreds of language learning videos available for free on Youtube (like this channel for learning Spanish, or this course for learning French).
Community centers often hold beginner level language courses that people can participate in. Or, you can find someone fluent in another language and see if they will help you practice.
Even if you make mistakes or struggle, you are still challenging your brain in a beneficial way.
Clearly, there are a great deal of benefits to knowing another language. Not only does it help you become a citizen of the world, but it also may delay your development of dementia!
At Florida Senior Consulting, we believe being bilingual is an asset. That’s why we have a website that is fully translatable into Spanish, the most common non-English language in Florida.
We also employ professional interpreters to help us communicate with clients who speak other languages. In fact, our interpreters can accommodate more than 240 languages on demand.
We are fully equipped to help clients who speak all different languages find the senior care they deserve.
If you or someone you know needs help finding a senior living community or arranging care at home, call us at (800) 969-7176 or visit FloridaSeniorConsulting.com.
Senior living on your terms. The choice should be yours.