As many studies show, your mind is a “use it or lose it” proposition. (see, Mental Exercise Nearly Halves Risk of Dementia, for example). That is, your mind will inexorably decline as you age (just as your muscles will) if you don’t continue to stimulate it.
This is one of the reasons that I decided to learn French. I’m also hoping for a trip to France this year. And, frankly, I always thought French was too hard to learn, so I decided to challenge myself! (Turns out it is pretty difficult to get the pronunciation correct, but not at all insurmountable.)
It’s really quite stimulating to learn a new language. I usually do one lesson per day, while in the car. Sometimes I’ll repeat a lesson if I don’t feel familiar with the new material. I feel like I’m progressing quickly, and am really enjoying it.
One interesting side effect is that my Spanish is improving too. Since it’s the same part of the brain that’s getting exercised it stands to reason, but I was surprised to find that the Spanish I already know comes out more fluidly now.
Whatever you do, do something out of the ordinary with your brain. Many people swear by crossword puzzles as a way to exercise your brain. I’m sure it works, as it forces you to think of things that aren’t part of your normal life. But for me, I want an activity that seems like a worthwhile use of my time. That’s why I’m learning a new language. Maybe you should try it too?
To learn French, I’m primarily using the Pimsleur course, which I highly recommend. It’s especially good for learning good pronunciation. I’m also trying out the Rosetta Stone language learning program. It is also good, but it excels at teaching vocabulary; I find it not as good for pronunciation as Pimsleur, though they are different paradigms. Pimsleur is an audio course, and the Rosetta Stone is a computer program.
TIP: Pimsleur CDs and Cassettes can be checked out from a library for free. Note that there are new editions of French (and probably other languages) to account for the currency change to the Euro, and other improvements, I’m sure. So be sure to get the most current one. I started on the previous edition, and find the sound quality better on the new edition that I got.
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