European Journal of Language Policy

Lifespan multilingual education, a long-term investment

European Journal of Language Policy (2016), 8, (1), 7–28.

Abstract

It is estimated that over the next decades, the number of older adults will reach record levels worldwide. With the increasing age, the prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, is also estimated to increase. Therefore, protecting older adults from the age-related effects of cognitive decline is one of the greatest challenges of the next following decades, since these will increase pressure on families, health and education systems, and, above all, economies on a global scale. There is a growing body of evidence emphasizing the beneficial effects of bilingualism acting as a safeguard against cognitive decline linked to the aging process. Building on this evidence, this paper reviews the latest studies which examine the effects of bilingualism on cognition in older age, and investigates whether foreign language learning at a later stage in life can constitute an optimal solution for building cognitive reserve, as it is scientifically proven that language learning engages an extensive brain network that is known to overlap with the brain regions negatively affected by the ageing process. This paper aims to highlight the importance of lifelong bilingualism and, using a different perspective, to promote lifespan multilingual education.

On estime qu’au cours des prochaines décennies, le nombre de personnes âgées atteindra des niveaux records dans le monde entier. En outre on estime qu’avec l’augmentation de l’âge, la prévalence de maladies neurodégénératives, telles que la maladie d’Alzheimer, augmentera à son tour. Pour cette raison, la protection des personnes âgées contre les effets du déclin cognitif liés à l’âge est l’un des plus grands défis des prochaines décennies, puisque ces effets vont augmenter la pression sur les familles, sur les systèmes de santé et d’éducation, et, surtout, sur les économies à l’échelle mondiale. Un nombre croissant de preuves met l’accent sur les effets bénéfiques du bilinguisme agissant comme une protection contre le déclin cognitif lié au processus de vieillissement. Se basant sur cette preuve, le présent article évalue les dernières études qui examinent les effets du bilinguisme sur la connaissance chez les personnes âgées, et cherche à déterminer si l’apprentissage de langues étrangères à un âge plus élevé peut constituer une solution optimale pour la construction de la réserve cognitive, étant donné qu’il a été scientifiquement prouvé que l’apprentissage des langues engage un réseau cérébral vaste qui est connu pour se chevaucher avec les régions du cerveau affectées négativement par le processus de vieillissement. Ce document vise à mettre en évidence l’importance du bilinguisme à vie et, en utilisant une perspective différente, de promouvoir l’éducation multilingue durant toute la vie.

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Leca, Irina