Do you remember the telephone number that you used to have 10 or 20 years ago before you moved and got a new phone number?
Probably not because our brains are programmed to remember only what we need to remember and to discard everything else as if there were a final storage capacity for brain. Well, maybe there is. It is also likely that different information is stored in different parts of our brain so that some of it can be accessed easily, and some only on certain occasions.
I don’t remember the phone number that I used to have 12 years ago, but since I do remember the area code and the old address, when I ran a search and displayed the whole number, I recognized it instantly.
So there must be a lot of information buried deep inside our brain that sometime may surface and be accessed with the right trigger. But old, unneeded information is no longer stored in the “quick cache” of our brain which is where our current telephone number is normally stored.
I have seen recently at least half a dozen articles in newspapers about the benefits of bilingualism with respect to prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, although the articles said that the onset of the disease is only delayed by about 5 years in bilingual or multilingual people.
It makes sense to me. Our brain is just like our body: if it is not exercised, challenged, even, it will eventually become weak, flabby, and after the onset of Alzheimer’s, completely useless.
More than 3 decades ago when I was in the army, I was a radio operator “of the first class”, which means that I was able to tap out with my nimble hand Morse code letters (Twitter that works without Internet if you have a receiver a transmitter, no limit on length of messages) at the speed of 120 letters per minute . I forgot everything about Morse code, except for SOS, of course, because these three letters are often used in movies and thus they stay embedded in the quick cache of our brain.
The brain is a strange animal. It remembers some things, prefers not to remember other things, and to misremember still other things, which is why different people always have different versions of what really happened.
My version of what happened in our apartment on 5th Avenue in San Francisco when the walls started shaking and things started falling on our heads during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 is very different from the way my wife remembers it.
In my version of events, I am prudent, but logical and brave during those critical 15 seconds; in her version of events, I am pretty cowardly and lame.
I am sure that my version is correct, and she is equally sure that her version is how it really happened.
But let’s get back to the benefits of being bilingual or multilingual, since this blog is supposed to be about translation (and it’s also safer for me that way).
I do believe that navigating between several languages, which is what translators are doing more or less safely on a daily basis, is a very good exercise for the brain, and that this is the reason why the brain of people who can tackle more than one language is more resistant to Alzheimer’s diseases.
This is a very good news for us, translators, for a reason that most people don’t even realize at this point. Imagine that you are an elderly translator who lives in a country where the so called safety net has so many big holes in it that it is essentially certain that you will fall through one of those huge, gaping holes at the point in your life when you will actually need a safety net.
What will non-translators and other unfortunate monolinguals do in their old age if their brain no longer works properly once Wall Street has stolen what is left of Social Security in this country? Whether Democrats or Republicans are in power, or share power while pretending to absolutely hate each other (and laugh at the dumb voters who buy their spiel), the banksters will eventually get all of it, and they will get away with it since that is how things have been working so far.
If you are a translator, instead of having your brain assaulted and eventually destroyed by a sneaky, slowly progressing disease that affects about 10% of people over 65 and about 50% of people above 85, playing the game of averages and including the multilingual factor in the equation, instead of experiencing the onset of the disease at 70 years of age, you are likely to suffer only from a mild form of senile dementia in your mid seventies, and you will probably be able to keep on translating up until your eighties.
This is very good news indeed for translators because the way things are going, most of us will pretty much have to work until we drop dead, or the earth is obliterated by an asteroid, whichever comes first, if we want to be able to pay our bills.
If we get lucky, we will die somewhere between our 75th and 80th year of age (should we live that long, of course), just before Alzheimer’s completely destroys our ability to translate and pay our bills in this manner.
By the time most of us are so old that our brain no longer works, the so called safety net (old, quaint notions that used to be called pension, social security, healthcare) will be just one big hole.
But luckily for us, we will be dead.
We translators are so lucky!