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Expats' Language Learning May Delay Alzheimer's

The benefits of the expat life are widely proclaimed. Improved health if you move to somewhere with a benign climate, and the chance for lots of outdoor recreation are two of them.

What is more surprising is that learning a foreign language fluently, coupled with other factors, may significantly stave off the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Edinburgh neurologist Dr Thomas Bak is quoted as saying that learning a new language was a good idea. “Apart from the cultural influences, it is a very taxing mental exercise. This is the best brain gym possible.”

Source: Flickr | Allan Ajifo

Meanwhile, Johan Mårtensson of Lunds University in Sweden said the act of learning a language makes the brain grow, with other studies showing that maintaining brain volume through eating Omega 3 rich foods did the same.

The Alzheimer’s Society gives France as a good example of a place to move to, where learning the language would be part of a beneficial package.

Research officer Jess Smith points out that, for expats in France, learning the language could help with stress, one of the problems of moving to France. “Stress is a major factor in developing dementia, and speaking the language would help with this” she is quoted as saying.

Source: Flickr | bass_nroll

She said there were other benefits from living in France: more active open-air lifestyle, easy access to fresh fruit and vegetables and fish, and taking regular exercise. There are academic papers going back 10 years supporting the thesis that learning a language such as French keeps the brain active and can push back the onset of dementia.

The latest study, by Edinburgh University and the Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, found the condition developing five years later in people who spoke two or more languages.

The reality of life Down Under

Australia and New Zealand are two of the most popular destinations for Britons contemplating the expat life. So popular that people moving there, or thinking about it, have their own reality show, The BBC’s Wanted Down Under.

Source: Flickr | Gary Sauer-Thompson

As the programme notes, every year 50,000 British people make that move. That's roughly 3 jumbo jets leaving every week.

Now the producers are inviting prospective Antipodeans to apply to take part in the next series. They want to speak to "people who are seriously considering making the move, and are looking for help and guidance with making that decision." Successful applicants will be flown out to either of the two countries for filming.

Wanted Down Under is billed as a series giving Brits the chance to find out what Southern Hemisphere life has in store for them, filtered through the familiar and easy-to-watch reality formula.

Source: Flickr | Alpha

The series takes a close look at how British families settle into Australian and NZ society. It it focuses on their house-buying experiences, and shows how they cope with finances, politics and the bureaucracy of Down Under.

The appeal of Australia and New Zealand to the British is well known. Although there is a high number of returnees, the series website says most immigrants adjust well and integrate into an easy outdoor lifestyle.

Series 9 of the popular programme is already being planned. Producers will be reviewing new applications from October (2014).

Is moving abroad bad for Britain?

Could the continuing lure of the expat lifestyle actually be bad for the UK economy? It's a question to be asked in the light of the latest official figures pointing to no sign of a significant slowdown in the mass expat exodus.

The UK Office for National Statistics reports that in the year ending June 2013, 320,000 Britons moved abroad. The number making a permanent overseas move over the past 10 years is now 3.6 million.

We must now ditch the assumption that the move abroad is mainly linked to a retirement lifestyle choice. Remarkably, the data shows that only 3.4% of that 3.6 million were over 60. So most of those departing were of working age. Taking a job overseas was given as the reason for moving in 42% of cases.

Source: Flickr | Nathan Congleton

UK MP Nick de Bois reckons the reason Britain is losing so many people from the pharmaceutical, aerospace and creative industries is because they feel they can get a higher quality of life, a better education for their children and a lower cost of living abroad.

A recent Lloyds TSB International survey found 74% of expats enjoyed a better quality of life overseas, while 64% were better off financially.

Source: Unsplash.com

The OECD estimates that 1.3 million Brits with a university degree are living abroad. This is one of the biggest losses of talent among developed countries. By comparison only 400,000 highly skilled US citizens have emigrated.

The question for the UK is: would the country be better off if these people stayed at home and found good jobs here?

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills reported that 22% of jobs were unfilled in 2013 because there was no one suitably qualified for the position. With the appeal of the expat life undimmed, is the UK's skills gap set to widen?

The Chinese rich get wanderlust

"Throw off the bow lines", advised Mark Twain. "Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade wind in your sales. Explore, dream, discover."

His injunction seems to have fallen on unexpected ears – very rich Chinese. A new report from Barclays concludes that as the number of Chinese millionaires grows, a larger proportion of them is aspiring to leave and live and work abroad.

Source: Flickr | Jonathan Kos-Read

Around half of those Chinese with personal wealth over $1.5 million are considering moving to a new country within five years.

The latest volume of Barclays Wealth Insights tracks the international movements of the world's high net worth individuals, exploring where they live, work, retire and are planning to move to.

Source: Flickr | Erin Nekervis

Barclays surveyed about 1,000 people around the world, high net worth individuals (HNWIs) earning $1.5 million or £1 million, from 17 countries, and found the Chinese more eager to emigrate than the very well-off in any other region.

The figure amongst the similarly well off in Singapore was 23%, and 16% in Hong Kong. 20% of Brits on that wealth level said they planned to emigrate. The figures for Americans and Indians were 6% and 5% respectively.

Citizens of the world

Today's wealthy expats could be launching future dynasties of truly global citizens, according to the latest Barclays Wealth Insights report. The children of the current generation of the internationally-mobile wealthy are even more likely to lead international lives.

The majority of the survey respondents said they expected their children to live in more countries than they had. A remarkable 78% of Latin American wealthy individuals believed that this will be the case.

Source: Flickr | Joshua Earle

The global wealthy are also becoming more multinational. The survey found that, as high net worth individuals move around more, they feel a growing sense of becoming multinational – 74% of respondents who have lived in five or more countries reported this.

And yet the choice of destinations for HNWIs remains relatively narrow. These people move themselves, and their wealth, to select and prospering cities such as London, New York and Singapore. These have become "wealth hotspots", notes the study, where they have a wide variety of lifestyle options and can invest their assets in relatively stable markets.

However, while wealthy individuals are gravitating towards a small number of destinations, increasing numbers are looking to the East for a future move.

Source: Unsplash | Rafael Fabricio

6% of those in North America considering a move in the next five years are looking to Asia Pacific. And 11% of those in Europe considering to migrate are looking to there too. For wealthy people in Europe, the USA still has the biggest call, with 38% of respondents looking there for a possible move.

Source: Unsplash | Andrew Ruiz

Research suggests that the majority opt to return home for retirement. The vast majority of respondents who have lived in multiple countries returned to retire in the country where they were born, so they do tend to retain their sense of national identity despite living abroad at some stage in their lives.

The pull of Paris

Foreign buyers are increasingly snapping up properties in and around Paris. New figures from real estate group Bien suggest almost 1 in 10 properties is bought by somebody from overseas, in the three districts that make up the Ile de France.

This is the highest figure for 15 years. In 2010 foreigners were making just 6.3% of purchases. The majority of those foreign buyers are Italian, Chinese, Algerian and Portuguese.

8.3% of those buying houses in the city of Paris this year were foreign nationals. That figure is up to 11.2% in the Inner Ring, although only 7.5% in the Outer Ring.

Source: Unsplash| Laura Liberal

Italians are the main foreign buyers in Paris, with 17% of sales. The interesting figure is the growing incursion of the Chinese in the property market. They were the dominant buyers in Paris's Inner Ring with 22.2% of sales.

The data also shows that 90% of these foreign nationals were short distance movers, who already lived in the Paris region.

And what of the French? Where are they moving? Another report, from Spanish property company Kyero, suggests that French people are the second biggest buyers in Spain, after the British.

Source: Flickr | Les Haines

Brits are still top, at 54.5%, but Spain is growing in popularity with the French, who now make up 18.2% of foreign buyers. 51% of enquiries are from people within an hour’s drive of Spain, in France. Germans are in third place, on 7.5%.

A Kyero spokesman said the French property market remained "flat" and French people were looking further south for holiday homes.

Play away - it’s good for you.

Last moth we talked about English Fotball player's reluctance to taste the expat's life.

This month the Welsh superstar Gareth Bale, now playing at Real Madrid, urged more players to follow him abroad and play in a foreign league at some stage of their career. Bale left Tottenham Hotspur in 2013 to join the Spanish club.

Source: Flickr | Nathan Congleton

He told The Independent. "I've enjoyed every minute of it, the new culture, the new life. I felt like I wanted to challenge myself."

One of the few British players to join Bale overseas is Ashley Cole, now playing in Rome for Roma.

Source: Flickr | Crystian Cruz

He admits he thought hard about an overseas move earlier in his career, but moved instead across London from Tottenham to Arsenal.

Cole reportedly said, on being introduced at Roma, that there was a fear factor among British players, that perhaps they were a little afraid to move abroad, accustomed to British culture and the convenience of home life. Speaking for himself he said that as soon as he had the chance "I was glad to get out of London, to face a new language and a new culture."

Emigrate and shed the pounds

There is more support for the theory that some expats, at least, live a healthier life abroad. An interesting case study on Street Insider talks about Americans Denver Gray and his wife Ann, who moved to the beach town of Salinas, Ecuador in March 2013.

The couple say that, in their first five weeks in Salinas, when they were setting up their new home, they each lost 10lb in weight without even trying to change their diet or lifestyle.

Mr Gray, who has type II diabetes, noticed that his morning blood sugar was falling after just two weeks in Salinas. He was able to cut his medication in half. Back in the US both his weight and sugar levels crept back up.

Other expats say this sort of improvement is not unusual, as new arrivals benefit from more fresh food, exercise, and clean air.

Source: Flickr | Chris Zielecki

One account reports overweight expats moving to Ecuador shedding between 30 to 50 pounds, without making any conscious effort to change their lifestyle.

The local food is thought to play an important in this change. A lot of the produce in Ecuador is raised without pesticides and chemical additives. Better weather than in the US is thought to encourage expats to take more exercise.

Finally, there's no shortage of advice and guidance on the expat's experience in foreign lands, but one country that comes in for scrutiny less often than most is our own, recently-rescued United Kingdom.

Source: Unsplash | David Marcu

Bill Bryson wrote an affectionate (mainly) paean to his adopted country in 'Notes From A Small Island'. But there is not much else, particularly from the non-English-speaking world.

Now a senior Portuguese academic – João Magueijo, Portuguese-born professor of theoretical physics at Imperial College, London – has published some candid thoughts. And I don't think they're going to find a place on the Visit Britain website any time soon. (It should be noted they are mainly aimed at the English.)

He found the toilets in (presumably some) homes and at schools and student lodgings "so disgusting that even my grandmother’s poultry cage is cleaner.”

Our drinking habits appalled him. “It is not unusual to drink 12 pints a person. Even a horse would get drunk like this, but in England it is standard practice.”

Source: Flickr | Akio Takemoto

But it is on the subject of class where his views could trigger a diplomatic incident. He refers to "almost medieval peculiarities"; our class structure" is one of the “most rigid and antiquated in the world." He touches on "unreconstructed colonial snobbery", "self-declared racism" and " self-destructive xenophobia."

Portugal doesn't seem to mind its oldest ally being traduced. The book, “Undercooked Steaks: Mini-Breaks and other catastrophes in Her Majesty’s realms” reached fifth-place in the Portuguese bestseller list.


Gareth Davies

Written by Gareth Huw Davies

In a busy journalistic career Gareth Huw Davies has contributed to UK and overseas publications on a wide range of subjects, from property to travel, and business to the environment, most recently for the Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday. He has also written five e-books, on subjects as diverse as Garfield Sobers, David Attenborough and the River Fleet.