Many years ago, sometime around the mid to late 80s’, I was on a flight from London to New York and I had the good fortune to sit directly across the aisle from…wait for it…Ms. Sophia Loren. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
Ms. Loren was absolutely beautiful and all I wanted to do was to go over to her and say ciao and start up a conversation. I imagined that we’d become best friends. But then I realized I wasn’t Marcello Mastroianni or even the slightest bit brave, so I simply stayed in my seat and admired her from afar.
What most struck me about seeing Ms. Loren, aside from her beauty, was how young she looked. At the time she was in her early fifties – today, at 84 she is still stunning.
During the brief moment when I wasn’t gawking at her I noticed my seat-mate reading a Time magazine, the cover of which was entitled “Forever Young.” I tried reading along with him, but I could tell that he didn’t really appreciate sharing his magazine. Not wanting to be rude I turned away, but not before picking up the gist of the article: learning a second language keeps one young.
For some reason that notion stuck with me and when I started to learn Italian I began to do some research and discovered that much had been written about the subject, all of which purported the same idea: learning a second language keeps the mind and the spirits young.
PARLI ITALIANO E RIMANERE GIOVANE
Between the years 2008 and 2010 research conducted at the University of Edinburgh showed that speaking two or more languages might slow down cognitive decline from aging. Study participants, many in their 70s had improved their reading, verbal fluency and intelligence. In 2011 Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, Canada, announced that the advantages of bilingualism persist into old age, even as the brain’s sharpness naturally declines. In 2012 The Telegraph (UK) reported that research coming out of York University in Toronto showed that “having to grapple with two languages makes the brain work harder, making it more resilient in later life.” It was one more piece of many that showed how learning a second language keeps us young, even warding off Alzheimer’s by as much as five years.
As exciting as the research was I am more like Francophile and New York Times Op-Ed Contributor, writer William Alexander, who said, “It turns out that spending a year not learning French may have been the best thing I could’ve done for my 57-year-old brain,”
I like knowing the research exists, but I don’t need it to tell me something I have discovered on my own. I can simply look at the events that have occurred over the many years I have attempted to speak the blessed language to know that learning Italian has kept me feeling young and full of life. I may be 77 years old, but I still feel like the kid in Breaking Away, the movie about a teen who rides his bicycle all around a small Indiana town shouting “ciao” to anyone who would listen, having fallen in love with pretty much everything Italiano. And when I’m 84 I’m going to look just like Sophen Loren 🙂 HaHaHa!