Did you know that being bilingual may actually be boosting your brain power? In a recent segment on NPR journalists dove into a new research study that showed bilingualism having an advantage that goes beyond communication: bilingualism being good for the brain!
Approximately one-fifth of Americans speak a non-English language at home, and globally, as many as two-thirds of children are brought up bilingual.
Psychologist Ellen Bialystok, from York University in Toronto, says the reason for boosted brain power in bilingual speakers lies in the way the their mind uses language. For fluent speakers of more than one language, whenever they speak their brain is activating both languages. This means bilinguals are constantly having to keep the two languages separate – something that monolinguals never have to do. You can think of it as trying to tune into the right signal on the radio or television. The brain has to keep the two channels separate and pay attention to only one.
This process of attention occurs in the executive control system. For bilinguals, every time they speak, they are activating this portion of their brain. By constantly dialing into this portion of the brain, bilinguals are performing mental exercises daily which has been noted as being beneficial for the brain. The practice pays off! Bilingual speakers have been shown to perform better on a variety of cognitive tasks, and one study Bialistok did found that dementia set in four to five years later in people who spent their lives speaking two languages instead of one.
To read the entire article, or listen to the radio segment, visit NPR.