I have been studying Spanish for a long, long time. For decades, if you start counting from the third grade when I was first exposed to el caballo, el gato, and el perro. In elementary school, we would watch a fifteen minute Spanish lesson on TV, where the teacher would bate, bate chocolate and sing Dos y dos son cuatro, cuatro y dos son seis… (which I just learned comes from a song by Stanley Lucero).
I took Spanish all through high school, skipped it entirely in college (oddly, there was no foreign language requirement for my BA), then took classes here and there since then, some private, some not. I have a killer accent, probably because I started studying so young, but unless I’m kind of dumped into a situation where I have to speak only Spanish (like when I went to Mexico), I have to think really hard to say what I want to say.
I bring this up because I just read about an interesting study where it was discovered that bilingual 8-month-old babies are better able to distinguish between two languages, even if they don’t speak either language. Better still, babies living in bilingual homes get a perceptual “boost” that will improve their thinking throughout their lives. Babies not exposed to a second language don’t have the same visual discrimination skills as bilingual babies do.
Bilingual babies are apparently able to notice variances in how the face moves when a person is speaking one language versus another. Watching a muted video of people speaking French and English, for example, they could see differences in how the lips moved, how the jaw opened and closed and other facial changes. They’d get bored if a language they’d already been exposed to was repeated, but perk up if it was a new-to-them language.
What’s also interesting about this is that learning a new language when you’re older is one way that’s supposed to fend off dementia. Bilingual Alzheimer’s patients are, on average, four to five years older. That is, being bilingual, they’re staving off the Alzheimer’s a few years longer.
So, I’m going to keep studying español. Maintain those brain cells best I can. And speak Spanish to my beautiful granddaughter every chance I get.