If you ever needed more evidence that learning a second language is important, here it is: Speaking another language makes you smarter and protects you against dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The collective evidence from a number of such studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving.
To learn more, read the entire NYT article.
Researchers have found preliminary evidence that growing up bilingual increases the brain’s capacity to deal with complex issues. Here’s an excerpt from the NPR story, followed by the audio:
Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist from York University in Toronto, says the reason lies in the way the bilingual mind uses language.
“We don’t really know very much in psychology,” said Bialystok. “But the one thing that has been so overwhelmingly proven, that I can say with great certainty, is this: For a bilingual who really has two good languages that they use, both of them are always active.”
In other words, no matter what language a person is speaking at the moment, both languages are active in the brain.
“The evidence is very dramatic. Even if you are in a context that is utterly monolingual, where you think there is absolutely no reason to think about Chinese or Spanish or French, it is part of the activated network that’s going on in your brain,” she said.
(If flash does not work, click here.
The journal Education Week reports on several recent studies that shed new light on the connection between the brain and language acquisition. Basically, we are never to old another language and the benefits of bi- or even trilingualism by far outweigh the challenges:
Science Grows on Acquiring New Language
By Sarah D. Sparks
Recent studies on how language learning occurs are beginning to chip away at some long-held notions about second-language acquisition and point to potential learning benefits for students who speak more than one language.
“We have this national psyche that we’re not good at languages,” said Marty Abbott, the director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in Alexandria, Va. “It’s still perceived as something only smart people can do, and it’s not true; we all learned our first language and we can learn a second one.”
New National Science Foundation-funded collaborations among educators, cognitive and neuroscientists, psychologists, and linguists have started to find the evidence to back that assertion up. For example, researchers long thought the window for learning a new language shrinks rapidly after age 7 and closes almost entirely after puberty. Yet interdisciplinary research conducted over the past five years at the University of Washington, Pennsylvania State University, and other colleges suggest that the time frame may be more flexible than first thought and that students who learn additional languages become more adaptable in other types of learning, too.
Read more here.