Switching back-and-forth between languages is like a workout for the brain reports the New York Times, which explores how research is exploring why bilingualism might be a big advantage in a child’s cognitive development.
Much like learning music, it turns out that bilingualism plays, well, a dual purpose: giving kids the advantages of knowing a second language but also better preparing their brains for learning.
Having a bilingual brain means that there are often two language systems working concurrently. This can help hone the brain to suppress unneeded information and ‘train’ the brain to run more efficiently. Not only do the brains of bilingual kids weed out irrelevant information but they’re also tend to monitor there environment more effectively, this is especially true for children whom must switch languages briskly.
Why Bilingual Brains are More Efficient
“Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often — you may talk to your father in one language and to your mother in another language,” says researcher Albert Costa of the University of Pompeu Fabra in Spain.
“It requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving.”
In a study comparing German-Italian bilinguals with Italian monolinguals on monitoring tasks, Mr. Costa and his colleagues found that the bilingual subjects not only performed better, but they also did so with less activity in parts of the brain involved in monitoring, indicating that they were more efficient at it.”
“In a 2004 study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins — one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle. In the first task, the children had to sort the shapes by color, placing blue circles in the bin marked with the blue square and red squares in the bin marked with the red circle. Both groups did this with comparable ease. Next, the children were asked to sort by shape, which was more challenging because it required placing the images in a bin marked with a conflicting color. The bilinguals were quicker at performing this task.”
Setting the Stage for Lifelong Cognitive Fitness
The benefits of being bilingual are not spent entirely on children. Research from The University of California, San Diego details the effect of bilingualism on the elderly as well. Bilingual adults are showing increased resistance to Alzheimer’s disease, the more proficient in language skills a person is the later Alzheimer’s onsets.
Join us at the Brain Power Conference as these and other issues are explained and explored with practical tips for parents and teachers on how the findings of neuroscience can give every child a leg-up on lifelong learning.