By Valarie D’Elia

Learning another language has its obvious benefits when traveling. Not only will it bring you closer to the culture by increasing your depth of experience in a foreign country, it can also make your trip a whole lot more entertaining when you make well-intentioned mistakes.

I remember testing out my college Spanish in Toledo, Spain attempting to ask for a plain croissant. (Hay alguien dentro? is how I phrased it). So, instead of correctly asking if it was filled with anything inside (Hay algo dentro?), I asked if there was anybody inside.

Besides breaking the ice, learning a new language can keep your brain sharp.

Dr. Sharad P. Paul, author of The Genetics of Health, says speaking a second language, regardless of your education level, may delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s, the most common form of the brutal memory-stealing disease.

In a study Dr. Paul cites, of more than 600 people 66 years old, researchers found that those who spoke a second language delayed certain types of dementia by an average of 4.5 years.

It makes sense. The skills needed to wrap your head around a new language call upon particular circuits of the brain that are instrumental in keeping dementia at bay.

Stephen D. Krashen in The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom writes about the benefits of learning languages, “… language acquisition occurs in only one way: by understanding messages.”

Another way to ward off dementia can also play into our travels. Dr. Paul cites eating a fish and vegetable style “Mediterranean diet” as another preventative measure, much like the meals served in my ancestral village in Italy.

I have just one (new) word for that. Benissimo!