Most lists you’ll see on why you should to learn Spanish are geared towards younger people, telling them that they should learn Spanish because 300 million other people speak the language, or that learning Spanish will expand their career opportunities.
Assuming that you’re no longer seeking to climb the global corporate ladder, I felt driven to compose a new list, a list just for us over 50.
1 First and foremost, language learning is the best thing you can do for your brain, better than any brain game or brain exercise program including Luminosity (which in 2016 paid a $2 million for deceptive advertising).
Many studies have shown that those who speak two or more languages have significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would have been expected from baseline tests. See the studies provided by Brain Be Fit, a non-profit for a comprehensive list of cognitive functions and the studies that back up the claims.
The strongest effects were seen in general intelligence and reading. The effects were present in those who learned their second language later in life as much as when young.
Think you are too old to learn a second language? Think again. A Medical News Today article about the advantages that adults have over children in learning a second language summarizes it in this way, “Archaic and downright false assumptions about brain plasticity have discouraged older people from learning foreign languages for far too long.”
Lifelong learning is also a key to successful aging.
2. Language learning is highly social. As we get older, many of us get a bit lazy about forming new relationships and making new friends. Constructive hobbies like learning a second language provides a great framework for developing new relationships.
If you are retired, and particularly if you are single, practice groups in your town and language exchange on Skype (with or without video) are a great way to get the recommended three social interactions a week proscribed for good emotional health
3. Are you even thinking about retiring or having a second home in Mexico? Language learning takes quite awhile, at least a few years for fluency, spoken and written. If you are even thinking about moving or spending time in Mexico, start now. The worst thing that could happen is your brain will love you, even if you decide not to move it to Mexico.
4. Music and songs in Spanish will make you feel things you’ve never felt before. As we got older, I noticed many of my friends stopped listening to music. I’m convinced it’s because they lacked the time to find new music, and got bored with their old music.
When you listen to songs in Spanish and begin to understand some of lyrics, most of which can’t be directly translated word for word into English, you will actually begin experience what I call “feeling in another language.”
Akin the the old adage, “to speak a second language is to possess a second soul,” the power of the lyrics will be non-translatable, part of your “second soul.”
5. Making friends from Spanish-Speaking countries is a blast. - Once while a girlfriend and I were having coffee in Denver, I picked up what I believed to be the Argentine accent from two guys at the table right next to us.
I asked for confirmation, and thus began a 90-minute animated conversation about slang and accents. Trying to guess different accents is a great ice-breaker.
6. You can more easily make friends with people learning English, both at home and in Spanish-speaking countries - Before I moved to Mexico, one day I struck up a conversation with a young woman from Veracruz who worked in my apartment building. She spoke very little English and I offered to give her a lesson once a week.
We had great chemistry and even though I normally don’t like teaching, we had so much fun gossiping between learning modules that I enjoyed our time together immensely.
Many retired people in my Spanish practice group in Denver volunteer teaching English to new immigrants. Obviously it helps their Spanish too.
7. Speaking a second language has a certain panache - It’s just cool! Europeans usually speak at least two languages. Americans are the brunt of many jokes for our monolingualism. If you can break out some decent Spanish when those situations come up, you will feel like you rock. And you should feel that way - you earned it.
8. You gain a true international perspective - Reading Spanish-language newspapers is an advanced skill but when you get there, you can take back some of that global perspective you lost after your college days.
I was shocked to realize how calcified some of my viewpoints had become from reading only American papers with their American viewpoints for 30 years. Foreign newspapers feature far more interesting stories because they aren’t afraid to go outside their own borders for the news.
You need a hobby - If you don’t have a hobby, get one, whether it’s photography, Asian cooking or Spanish.
- Hobbies soothe the evenings you have to spend alone.
- Hobbies produce something tangible from your free time.
- Hobbies bleed off restlessness and the anxiety it provokes.
- Hobbies give you satisfaction, self-assurance and practical skills you can show off to friends.
10. You expand your receptiveness to all foreign cultures, not just Spanish-speaking ones - Just like learning a second language makes it easier to learn a third, learning a “second culture” through the language makes you open to still more cultures or belief systems. I notice that I have far more friends from other countries now that I've regenerated my interest in Spanish, and not just Spanish-speaking ones.
Some ways to use your Spanish practice as a way to make friends with Mexicans.
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I'm is a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to those considering expat life in Mexico, most recently, "If Only I Had a Place," a guide to renting medium term in Mexico.
I am also author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web.