Bonjour, hola, ciao,guten tag, hej, hoi and ahoj!

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So many different ways to say ‘Hello’! On Friday 26th September the European Day of Languages was celebrated as it has been every year since 2001. This is an important event and it highlights the benefits of being able to speak more than one language. Today, more of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual than monolingual. In addition to helping cross-cultural communication, this trend also positively affects cognitive abilities. Researchers have shown that the bilingual brain has better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to switch off one language whilst using another. In addition, bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors experience significantly less cognitive decline.

This day shows not only the importance of being able to speak a second, third – or even fourth – language but it also illustrates the fact that we are never too old to learn – in fact multilingualism is a great advert for lifelong learning and has a measurable effect. Evidence from longitudinal studies is suggesting that the onset of dementia in multilingual people is delayed by at least five years when they are compared to their monolingual counterparts. For young people, learning another language seems to stimulate the forming of new neural networks and this seems to be a key reason for the delay of Alzheimer’s in later life. When it comes to jobs, no matter what the type of employment, multi lingual people earn more money (and have jobs with better prospects) than people who only speak one language.

That is why we celebrated European Languages Day at Minsthorpe this week. Staff and students have dressed up in the national costumes of our European neighbours and we have had language quizzes, food tasting from around the world, language challenges and lessons – other than MFL – being taught in a foreign language. To sum it up, bilingual individuals have better social skills, more job opportunities and an edge on delaying Alzheimer’s disease. If nothing else, I hope my blog encourages you to start to learn a new language – it is never too late to begin and it will build up your brain power!

Ray Henshaw