In his book Healthy Aging, Andrew Weil, MD, describes what we can all do to protect our brains throughout our lives. On pages 284-286 Weil writes about the value of learning another language. There were several sections that stood out. The words in bold print are my comments and the italics are mine.


“You don’t have to succeed; it is the effort that increases brains plasticity and flexibility.”

This meshes well with Carol Dweck’s findings on Mindset.


“This is why learning another language may be a perfect challenge for people at any age.  It is an ongoing, open-ended commitment that keeps you in a continuous state of mental workout, both frustrating and rewarding.  There is even fascinating research showing a direct link between bilingualism and improved brain function. We know that children raised in bilingual environment acquire language skills more slowly that their monolingual counterparts but end up with greater mental proficiency.”

The open-endedness of language learning is fascinating. We can become fluent with relatively few words, but the challenge of acquiring more (and even more languages) always remains.


“A recent study reports that bilingual subjects, both young and old, have faster reaction times and are better able to screen our distracting information than subjects who speak only one language. The researchers suggest that the same brain processes involved in using two languages are needed to stay focused and manage attention while ignoring irrelevant information, a facility called “fluid intelligence.” Fluid intelligence is one of the first aspects of brain function to suffer in age-related cognitive decline. Therefore, proficiency at two languages ought to be protective—more so, I think, than any so-called smart drugs or supplements.”

Do students need to develop the ability to screen out distracting information? They need this fluid intelligence more today than ever.


“By the way, I do not regard learning another language as an intellectual feat.  The only talents required are the abilities to hear and to imitate sounds.  After all, infants learn to speak without developed intellects and without the use of grammar books.  Motivation to acquire language is essential.  Infants are highly motivated, as are adults who place themselves in situations where they have to understand and make themselves understood.”

Smart guy, that Dr. Weil. In this last section, it seems like he has been reading Stephen Krashen, but it is just as likely that he came to these observations by another route. Acquiring another language is not intellectual, it is auditory. Language comes in through our ears.