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How does being bilingual affect the brain?

January 29, 2014:

Bilingualism is a common phenomenon when is comes to Asian or African countries. Bilinguals are rare in United States and most of Europe and they find the concept of bilingualism fascinating. Bilinguals are more common around the world population. The concept of people having the ability to speak more than one language at a given time has been there since the beginning of time.

There are many myths about bilingualism. Like the child may not be able to learn both languages simultaneously or would have difficulty in feeling at home or that it lowers their IQs. None of these things are true. Children and adults can learn a second language during any stage of life. However, as a child it is easier to learn a language compared to learning a language as an adult.

There are some perks that bilinguals have over monolinguals. Speaking two languages has effects on the brain. It also has an impact on how the nervous system responds to sounds. A bilingual can shift from one language to the other when needed. There is also evidence of a bilingual speaking in one language, while the brain is processing in the other. This means that both languages are active at the same time.

This acts like an exercise for the brain and helps it resolve internal issues. Psychologists have conducted studies to prove the advantages of being bilingual. In one of the studies, pre-school children where divided in two groups. One group had children who spoke one language while the other spoke two languages. The children were asked to sort blue circles and red squares in two digital bins, with one marked with a red circle and the other was marked with a blue square. In the first experiment, children were asked to sort the shapes according to colors. This was comparatively easy for both the groups.

However, when they were asked to sort according to the shape, bilingual children were able to perform much better than monolingual children. Other studies like this one have proved, that being a bilingual allows the person to experience improved executive brain functions. These functions are basically a set of commands that direct the attention processes for planning, performing tasks and solving problems.

The processes also involve the ability to stay focused and ignore distractions. Bilinguals also have the ability to intentionally switch attention from one thing to another. They are also good at retaining information, for example the direction sequence to a certain place.

Bilinguals have a heightened ability to monitor environment. The reason is simple. They usually have to switch language very often. Your mother may talk in one language while your father may speak in a different language. Switching from one language to another requires a person to keep track of the changes in language during conversation. This is the same as keeping a track of surroundings. Bilinguals also have the ability to perform the task more efficiently and with less brain involvement.

Lately, studies are showing that bilinguals have a better chance of resisting diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.