image by Stuart Miles -

As we approach or enter retirement, many of us create a bucket-list of things to do in order to keep  ourselves occupied. With the possibility of another 30 years or so of life ahead of us, relaxing and watching the TV are soon going to become old hat, and so we need something to keep both our mind and body active. Perhaps this is the time to immerse yourself in a new hobby, enrol for a beginner’s yoga course, or learn the second language you’ve always promised yourself you’d learn one day when you had more time.

Learning to speak another language has many benefits. Of course, the first one is the ability to communicate better with the people who speak that particular language. Learning a language can also give you the mental stimulation you need when you’re no longer in the workplace on a daily basis. Furthermore, if you choose to take language classes at a local venue, it can provide the perfect opportunity to make new friends.

However, if you’re needing a little extra push to start, you may be interested to know that research has shown that learning a second language can do far more for you than simply giving you a way to ask for a cup of tea in French, or converse with your Russian friends via Skype. It’s now thought that being able to speak a second language improves your chances of recovery after a stroke.

Being bilingual or multi-lingual can help with stroke recovery

According to the research team at the University of Edinburgh, people who speak two or more languages are twice as likely to recover from a stroke than those who are only able to speak one. During their research they discovered that, following a stroke, normal function was restored in 40% of bilingual patients, compared to only 20% of monolingual patients. This was still found to be true after other factors, such as smoking, diabetes and age, were taken into account. The researchers believed that this ability to recover has something to do with the fact that bilingual speakers are able to switch from one language to another, inhibiting one language while activating another.

How to learn a second language

If these findings strengthen your resolve to learn French, German, Russian or indeed Mandarin, there are several ways to get to grips with another language. The best way is to live in the country where the language is spoken and simply immerse yourself in the language, the culture and the people. However, for most of us, this is not an option, and so we have to resort to some other method.
Traditionally, many of us have learned a second language by attending classes, either at a local college or at a language school. However, if getting out and about is difficult, there are some great options for home-learning. Programmes such as Rosetta Stone and Duolingo (an online course which is completely free), make it easier than ever to learn a new language as you can go at your own pace, and you can even be conjugating verbs or learning your vocabulary while relaxing in the bath.

Other options include asking a bilingual friend or relative to teach and converse with you. Alternatively, it’s now possible to employ a ‘virtual’ language teacher via Skype, who will help you with your conversational skills.

Whichever method you choose to use, learning a second language is not only a great way to expand your horizons and keep your mind active, but it may also help you to regain your ability to speak following a stroke … Parlez vous Francais?