There’s been a lot of research done on whether people that are bilingual are smarter than the monolingual bunch. We’ve looked into it.
Bilinguals are highly sought after in the international market place, and there’s a good reason for that. Because of their language abilities and cultural fluency, they are often strong communicators.
But apart from the career path head start, what are the other advantages?
When bilinguals talk, both their language systems are active simultaneously. Because both systems are active at the same time, they obstruct each other and sometimes overlap. At first glance this seems an obvious disadvantage, but think again.
Dealing with two or more language systems at once forces the brain to resolve internal conflicts. As the brain is trained to manage different systems, the mind is constantly being worked, and the cognitive muscles strengthened. This leads us to the next point, attention span.
Because the bilingual brain is being trained vigorously to jump in between language systems, the so called ‘executive function’ continuous to improve throughout life.
The executive function is the ‘command system’ that directs your attention processes. It’s the toolbox of mental attention skills, that allow us to concentrate and to switch focus between different tasks without getting too confused.
Long story short, bilinguals are supposedly better at managing distractions, and staying focused than monolinguals.
Processes such as planning and solving problems also tend to come easier to bilinguals, as they are highly trained in directing attention.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Studies have shown that the effects of bilingualism are for life. Tamar Gollan, neuropsychologist at University of California, led a study with 44 elderly bilinguals. The results showed that the participants were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer.
According to the UK Alzheimer’s Society, bilinguals are on average 5 years older that other monolinguals when developing dementia. Because bilinguals have stronger connections between certain brain areas, they are more equipped to cope with damage before they show any outward signs.
If you are bilingual, you’ll often have a heightened ability to monitor your environment. You might talk to your Mum and Dad in Mandarin, but live in an English speaking environment. Keeping track of your changing environment, improves your mental capacity as you are jumping in between both language systems and cultures.
As bilinguals often life in two different cultures, they have two windows on the world. Their behaviour systems are forced to deal with at least two sets of; traditions, stories, greetings, culinary experiences and greetings. The ability to see different perspectives often provides a greater tolerance, and is commonly linked with less extremist views.
As for the health advantages, because the brain constantly juggles two languages simultaneously, there benefits are quite substantial.
From delaying the onset of dementia and alzheimer’s, to speeding up the processes of post- trauma rehabilitation, to an generally increased attention span, it seems there are plenty of advantages to being bilingual.
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