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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hey Bilinguals! Did you know...?

Okay, so we all intuitively know that exposure to another language is a good thing. We're even pretty sure that we've seen a study or two showing that bilingual kids score better on general aptitude tests than their peers.

But did you know, too, that:

Bilingualism is linked to neural efficiency in older adults!

Yep, it's true! The Journal of Neuroscience published a study earlier this year showing that lifelong bilingualism can help preserve cognitive strength in aging.

Participants, young and old, monolingual and bilingual, performed various attention-switching tasks, such as quickly sorting colors and shapes, while being monitored by fMRI. Imaging showed that the brains of the monolingual seniors worked harder to complete tasks, while the bilingual seniors' brains were much more efficient, more like those of young adults.

Neuroscientists think that these differences in brain usage help bilinguals compensate for age-related declines in thinking and memory, and may even protect against losses caused by Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

Those of us who are not lifelong bilinguals, or we later language learners who are not fully bilingual, can we hope that our brains might see these same benefits, albeit to a lesser degree, as we age? That will be the focus of future research of this study's lead author, Brian Gold of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

While we're waiting for those future results, might as well dust off your Rosetta Stone collection, have your passport at the ready, and do your best to keep your brain young and healthy! Who's with me?


  1. I have seen both of those studies (about children's test scores and the bilingual seniors), so I'm with you! When I mentioned this to my students one semester, they asked if being trilingual would help even more! However, some of them were disappointed that they actually have to speak the languages most of their lives to get the cognitive benefits, so I also look forward to seeing the results of the new study.

    1. Yes, I have a feeling the study will show at least *some* benefits for any degree of 2nd language speaking. That will be good news for your students, and many of the rest of us!