West Suffolk: Age no barrier to learning a second language

West Suffolk Colleges oldest language student, Betty Mckie, 85, with teacher Yannick Limer.

West Suffolk Colleges oldest language student, Betty Mckie, 85, with teacher Yannick Limer. - Credit: Gregg Brown

A college in west Suffolk is encouraging people of all ages to learn a new language after research showed that it can slow down brain ageing.

A recent study, which tested people’s intelligence at age 11 and again in their 70s, showed that those who had learned a second language – whether in childhood or as an adult – showed improvements in reading, verbal fluency and intelligence.

And an 85-year-old West Suffolk College student has proved it is never too late to start.

Betty Mckie, the college’s oldest language student, attends the Friday morning French circle at New Green Community Centre in Thurston. She said: “I do feel the French course I take has helped to keep my brain active. I enjoy learning a new language because it is something I always wanted to do and now I’ve finally found the time.

“I think another big benefit is the social aspect of the course as I get to meet all kinds of people and it keeps me active as I walk to the course every week.”

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The study, published in the Annals of Neurology this summer, found that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would have been expected from their baseline test.

A previous study by Edinburgh University also found that being bilingual could delay the start of dementia by up to five years. Yannick Limer, Betty’s French tutor, said: “Age isn’t a barrier to learning a new language – it is more about whether people have an ‘ear’ for it.

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“We have people on our courses ranging from teens to their 80s. The benefits of keeping your mind active are obvious but this study proves that you will feel the benefit of expanding your language abilities whether you learn a new language as a child or an adult.”

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