According to physiological studies, speaking two or more languages is a great asset to the cognitive process. “The brains of bilingual people operate differently than single language speakers, and these differences offer several mental benefits”, says Anne Merrit, a Canadian teacher, writer, and editor.
Here in Port Alberni seniors have the opportunity to benefit from this process as they get back to their books and brush up their skills while learning a new language.
The Sunshine Club offers such an opportunity to its members by having Spanish lessons available at regular weekly sessions. These lessons have been in existence for more than a dozen years.
Spanish has become the second most spoken language with almost half a billion speakers world wide.
“No doubt that people who learn another language keep their brain active. I am at an age where I keep trying to use my brain, so I read, play games in my tablet and do some research in my PC, and now, I am getting back at learning Spanish which keeps me more active mentally,” says Arleen Hoffman. She is one of 15-plus seniors who attend the Spanish sessions and does the coordination of this program on behalf of the Sunshine Club.
Other studies liken the brain to a muscle, because it functions better with exercise. This means that the learning of another language involves memorizing rules and vocabulary which helps strengthen that mental ¨muscle¨. The same studies also suggest that multiple language speakers do better at remembering lists or sequences and are better at observing their surroundings. They are more adept at focusing on relevant information and editing out the irrelevant. “They’re also better at spotting misleading information.”
“I find it interesting to see where Spanish words and English words sometimes share meaning, or mean something quite different. Many languages are rich in colour, subtlety,” says one of the students. “It is also interesting to learn unique phrasing of one language. My favourite is ‘dar a luz’: ‘give the light’, when one gives birth”, she adds.
In addition to the physiological value that the learning of a new language implies, particularly Spanish, there are other practical benefits, such as communication when going on trips beyond our boundaries. As we know, millions of Canadians and Europeans enjoy vacations in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, where over 90 per cent of the population speak this language. Thus, seeking information, speaking and interacting with host people become essential.
“After a trip to Cuba, one of my goals was to learn Spanish,” says another student. “I remember when I was vacationing with my husband I was wanting to express myself with the locals, not only I was trying to look for information about tourism, places of interest, but to learn more about their life and customs. All we did was use hand signals! How frustrating!”
Arleen also says why she decided to learn Spanish: “Years ago, I was working for Western Union in the United States where many customers who called spoke Spanish.
“The company insisted that the customers needed to spell the Spanish words or have someone who spoke English to call. I decided to enroll in a conversational Spanish class being held at the community college. I thought it would help me as well as the customers.
“They were so pleased when I told them I knew the words and they didn’t have to spell them for me. Very polite people.”
The Spanish lessons are held in the basement of Abbeyfield on a bi-weekly basis at no cost for the students (as long as they are members of the Sunshine Club).
“Meet other people who are open to new experiences, willing to look a little foolish, make mistakes, laugh at life”! an advice from a senior student.
Español?, ¡Sí, por supuesto!