Foreign language learning in older age does not improve memory or intelligence
Evidence from a randomized controlled study
In: Psychology and Aging,
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Foreign language learning in older age has been proposed as a promising avenue for combatting age-related cognitive decline. We tested this hypothesis in a randomized controlled study in a sample of 160 healthy older participants (aged 65-75 years) who were randomized to 11 weeks of either language learning or relaxation training. Participants in the language learning condition obtained some basic knowledge in the new language (Italian), but between-groups differences in improvements on latent factors of verbal intelligence, spatial intelligence, working memory, item memory, or associative memory were negligible. We argue that this is not due to either poor measurement, low course intensity, or low statistical power, but that basic studies in foreign languages in older age are likely to have no or trivially small effects on cognitive abilities. We place this in the context of the cognitive training and engagement literature and conclude that while foreign language learning may expand the behavioral repertoire, it does little to improve cognitive processing abilities.
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