We all pick up a few foreign words here and there, such as "bon jour" and "adios," but what if learning a few more could help save your life? Even if you haven't studied Spanish since high school or you aren't planning on leaving the country anytime soon, picking up a foreign language can not only expand your vocabulary, but also offset the side effects of aging and decrease your risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers at the Sam and Ida Ross Memory Clinic at Baycrest in Toronto, Canada, have found that being bilingual can help strengthen cognitive reserve, or the brain's resistance to deterioration over time. Scientists analyzed data from 211 patients who had been diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's disease (AD), or showing potential symptoms of AD. Splitting the subjects up into those who were bilingual and those who were not, each patient's cognitive impairment was registered and monitored over time.

The researchers found that those who were bilingual were diagnosed with Alzheimer's 4.3 years later than those who only spoke one language, and subsequently reported further symptoms after 5.1 years. Both groups were equal in education, occupational status and overall age. On average, monolingual subjects were diagnosed with AD at the age of 75.4 while bilingual participants were not identified with the disease until 78.6 years of age.

Dr. Ellen Bialystok, lead author of the study and professor at York University in Toronto, attributed learning another language to increase stimulation in brain activity and delay side effects of dementia.

"Being bilingual is one way to keep your brain active – it's part of the cognitive-reserve approach to brain fitness," Bialystok told National Geographic News. "Our conclusion is that lifelong experience in managing attention to two languages reorganizes specific brain networks, creating a more effective basis for executive control and sustaining better cognitive performance throughout the lifespan."

Tips for learning a new language
Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States according to the Alzheimer's Association. Acquiring a second language can not only impress your friends, but help prevent future symptoms of dementia from occurring. Here are a few easy tips for those interested in speaking in another tongue.

  • Review the basics: Learn the basic and essential words first. The ability to piece together cohesive sentences will only progress over time. Focus on greetings, colors and animals at the beginning, then ease into the grammatic​al structure. Learn to use simple phrases like, "the dog is black" before progressing on to more difficult topics.
  • Gather resources: Buy a dictionary for your preferred language, as well as books, movies or music. Reading or hearing sentences directly can help you get the feel for pronunciation and framework. If you are unfamiliar with a word or phrase, write it down and look it up in the dictionary. Movies with subtitles are also a great way to read and hear what characters are saying.
  • Set your standards: Only you can motivate yourself so set goals in advance and provide a plan for yourself to follow. Objectives like learning the words to a song in two weeks or writing a five page fictional story in a few months can help you advance.
  • Use your skills: Once you are putting time and effort into learning your language, put your skills to the test. Visit places or people who speak the native tongue and try to strike up conversation, or sing along to a favorite native musician. The internet is a perfect place to explore forums, or find a pen pal from another country. Continue demonstrating your new ability in any way imaginable, or else all the hard work will never suffice.

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