Learning a Second Language May Help Slow Down Aging

Prof Zhen Qin

Pitch track of the four Mandarin tones and the six Cantonese tones(figures from Qin & Jongman, 2016). There are no mid-level and low-level tones in Mandarin.

Prof Zhen Qin is an assistant professor in the division of humanities and the associate director of Center for Chinese Linguistics. As a linguist, he is interested in studying how adults learn a second language. His previous research includes examining how (English-speaking) college students learn lexical tones in Mandarin or Cantonese. He is hoping to expand this angle to a wider age range and promote language learning across the lifespan. Could learning a second language at an older age be a potentially helpful intervention to promote healthy aging?

After looking into lifelong bilingualism, Prof Qin believes speaking more than one language could help preserve healthy brain function as the process of learning a language could help prevent cognitive decline. Lifelong bilingualism acts as a safeguard in preserving healthy brain function, possibly delaying the incidence of dementia. One of his current projects is investigating the relationship between sleep and language learning. Based on his research, a good sleep after tone learning would help younger adults consolidate newly learnt tones better. In his paradigm, he invites Mandarin-speaking participants to receive training to learn novel tones (mid-level and low-level tones) from Cantonese, the participants will then be invited back after one night of sleep for a test. For the next stage, Prof Qin would like to extend this research to older people and study whether language learning, together with sleep, can help them enhance their memory and if there will be a difference in the memory consolidation effect between different age groups. With this project, Prof Qin aspires to explore language learning as a tool of promoting healthy aging in the long term.