Bilingualism makes you smarter!

Bilingualism is good for you. It makes brains stronger. It is brain exercise – cognitive neuroscientist, Ellen Bialystok

Nowadays, bilinguals or multilinguals constitute the majority of the global population, marginalising monolinguals as The Associated Press reports that up to 66% of the world’s children are raised bilingual. Cross-cultural communication and globalisation aside, the trend is able to positively affect cognitive abilities. Recent technological advances avidly spurring researchers on as they probe the brain and examine how bilingualism interacts with and ultimately changes the cognitive and neurological systems.

Regarding the cognitive consequences of bilingualism, overwhelming amounts of research has indicated that when a bilingual person uses one language, the other is simultaneously active. For instance, when you hear the word ‘can’ you will be likely to activate the words ‘candy’ and ‘candle as well; for bilinguals, auditory input activates corresponding words regardless of the language to which they belong and as such, activation is not limited to a single language.

It’s been proven that bilingual people often perform better on tasks that require conflict management. Bilinguals are often found to have been able to manifest a cognitive system with the ability to attend to important information and ignore those that are less so. You would think of the way a brain’s networks works as cogs, and that every time you speak, both of the languages pop up and start running relentlessly and the executive control system is then consigned to sift through everything so as to deal with the more relevant factor. As such, there is a constant juggle in bilinguals to maintain relative balance between two languages which are always active and competing, and the control mechanisms are constantly practised and strengthened as regular use makes the executive control system more effective, which in turn changes the associated brain regions. A study published in the January 9 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience showed that seniors who were bilingual since childhood are faster than their monolingual counterparts when switching from one task to another, reflecting better cognitive control.

There are also various tangible practical benefits commonly associated with being bilingual; for instance, the bilingual experience drives improvements in cognitive and sensory processing may help said bilingual to better process information in the environment. Research has also shown that in infants as young as seven months can have positively influenced attention and conflict management, and that benefits correlating to the bilingual experience seems to start rather early and that navigating a complex, multilingual environment offers benefits that transcend mere language.

Another cognitive advantage bilingualism yields is that it is deemed to provide a means of forestalls natural declines of cognitive function such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, whilst maintaining a cognitive reserve, where the brain’s networks are effectively utilised to enhance brain function during aging. Studies indicate that on average, bilinguals showed Alzheimer’s symptoms five to six years later than monolinguals – that they were able to continue functioning at a higher level despite the disease settling in their brains.

Many cognitive benefits may be gained from bilingualism extending from early childhood to old age – and the advantages discussed also include those who acquire a second language later in life. At Mandarin Stars, in all our classes regardless of whether it’s the Bubs and Tots (1-2 years), the Playgroup (3-5 years) or even the Superstars (5-12 years), we tailor all classes to adhere to the children’s cognitive and developmental stages, aiding their growth.