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General NewsBilingual brain

June 1, 2011

By Tatiana Kuzmina, Iryna Pavlenko, Haesung Yoon

Immigrants often struggle to learn English. However, they and their children may gain a significant benefit from speaking more than one language. According to recent studies presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, bilingualism, or the ability to speak two languages fluently, has a positive impact on the brain.

Bilingual speakers need to move continually from one lan­guage to another. This habit leads to better control of the part of the mind that manages concentration. According to recent research, bilingual children can multi-task and focus better than monolingual children. Bilingual adults are faster decision-makers than those who speak only one language.

The ability to concentrate is an important function of the executive system in the brain. According to Ellen Bialystok, researcher and psychology professor at York University in Toronto, Canada, “It’s quite possibly the most important cog­nitive system we have because it’s where all of your decisions about what to attend to, what to ignore, and what to process are made.”

Bilingualism begins to impact behavior immediately after birth and grows through early childhood. The studies also con­tained good news for older adults. “Being bilingual, or even learning a second language late in life,” said Bialystok, “has been shown to slow the decline of some key brain functions.” Because bilingual people have more effective control of the executive function in their brain, the signs of Alzheimer’s in bilingual people can be delayed up to five years.

Published June 2011

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