Ron Stephenson is a member of the Sunshine Club and a long-time Spanish student. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

VALLEY SENIORS: Learning a second language has a number of benefits

Port Alberni Sunshine Club offers free Spanish lessons for seniors

ORLANDO DELANO

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

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 our community, 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.

Locally, our Echo Sunshine Club offers such an opportunity to its members by offering Spanish lessons (a language that has become the second most spoken language, with almost half a billion speakers worldwide). These lessons have been available at no cost at regular weekly sessions for Sunshine Club members and have been in existence for more than fifteen years.

“We are looking forward to resuming our lessons once the virus pandemic is over,” says the local Spanish instructor.

“No doubt that people who learn another language keep their brain active,” said one of the seniors who attended Spanish lessons in town. “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 at my PC. Now, I am getting back at learning Spanish which keeps me more active mentally.”

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, as well as being better at observing their surroundings. Multiple language speakers are more adept at focusing on relevant information and editing out the irrelevant. They’re also better at spotting misleading information.

“I do two things to exercise my brain,” said Ron Stephenson, one of the local Spanish students. “I didn’t start taking Spanish lessons to exercise my brain, originally. Years ago I heard the language and I loved the sound of it. Over the years I have made many short missionary trips to Central America. I saw some advantages to learning to speak Spanish. I have not come close to being fluent, but I do enjoy the exercise.

“Sometimes, I am physically tired after a long bike ride or a hike, and also I am mentally tired after struggling with Spanish, but it is a good kind of tiredness and I believe in the benefits of the physical and mental exercising,” he adds. Keeping your body and mind fit is a good habit to have!

In addition to the physiological value that the learning of a new language implies, particularly Spanish, there are other practical benefits like communication when going on trips beyond our bounderies. As we know, millions of Canadians and Europeans enjoy vacations in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, where more than 90 per cent of the populations speak this language. Thus, seeking information, dialoguing and interaction with host people becomes essential.

“After a trip to Cuba, one of my goals was to learn Spanish,” said another local student. “I remember when I was vacationing with my husband and wanting to express myself with the locals. Not only was I trying get information about the tourist aspects of our visit and the places of interest, but also to learn more about their life and customs. All we did was the use of hand signals! How frustrating!”

The Spanish lessons are expected to resume in a near future. “In the meantime, those interested in brushing up on their language skills and enhancing their knowledge can make use of the internet, where they can find dozens of trusted websites aimed to teach the language,” the instructor recommends.

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