Flex your brain – learn Māori to delay Alzheimer's

Thursday 28 June 2012, 5:45PM
By University of Canterbury

Learning te reo Māori could help aging New Zealanders keep Alzheimer’s at bay for up to five years, according to international research.

That’s just one of many good reasons to become bilingual, says UC’s Associate Professor Jeanette King (Aotahi: School of Maori and Indigenous Studies) who speaks English and te reo Māori.

Other reasons, backed up by New Zealand research, show learning more than one language is good for general brain development and cognition, she says.

“Bilingualism gives people a stronger cultural identity and sense of belonging to a group. And it provides a window into other ways of thinking, doing and being – it gives you access to another world view, if you like,” says Professor King.

“Tim Groser, our trade minister, recently made this point when he said it was his personal view that all New Zealand five-year-olds should take up te reo Māori. He felt trading and doing business overseas really well requires a faculty for language and learning languages.”

Professor King is one of 30 top minds working in UC’s New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour.

The institute, led by UC’s Professor Jennifer Hay, was set up in 2010 as a way to encourage more collaboration among academics in related fields.

“At the institute, we’re keen to explore new ideas and come up with fresh, multidisciplinary ways of looking at things,” says Professor Hay. “It’s about creating a fertile environment for research. It’s also about achieving things together that would be impossible to achieve alone.”

The institute has five major research themes including language and aging, language and social cognition, language variation and change, language acquisition, and bilingualism.

It has a permanent staff of more than 30, as well as six postdoctoral researchers and many PhD students. External research partners such as MARCS Auditory Laboratories in Sydney also work with the institute.

Its state-of-the-art facilities include two observation labs for language, brain and behaviour experiments and equipment such as tracking systems for tracking tongue, speech and body movements.