Thursday, June 9, 2011

Health Benefits of Bilingualism

Health Benefits of being Bilingual -Cherriipop110610 by CherriiPOP

Being bilingual is quite handy. I can converse with my elders, they don’t speak a lot of English. In Vietnamese restaurants I can read the menu, it’s always good to know what you’re ordering.

Besides the social benefits of being bilingual there are also health benefits. One of my favourite twitterers Daniel Keogh, the science reporter for ABC. He recently tweeted an interesting article from the New York Times called ‘The Bilingual Advantage’. You can follow him on twitter @ProfessorFunk; his tweets are really fascinating stuff.

In the article ‘The Bilingual Advantage’, cognitive neuroscientist Ellen Bialystok talks about her 40 years of research on how bilingualism sharpens the mind. One of the interesting findings was: the regular use of 2 languages appears to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.

Dr Bialystok, a distinguished research professor at York University in Toronto has been awarded a $100,000 Killam Prize last year for her contributions in the field.

Her PhD thesis was on ‘how children acquire language’. This led her to study bilingualism throughout her research career. She started out by asking ‘How does the acquisition of a second language change thought?’

She explains that the brain has the executive control system that keeps you focused on what is relevant and discards the distractions. This system allows you to multi-task; you can hold 2 different things in your mind at one time and switch between them.

When a person uses 2 languages regularly, both languages pop up in the brain and the executive control system has to sort through the information and focus on what is relevant. Overall bilinguals use this system more and the regular use of it makes the system more efficient. Bilinguals use this system more, they are better at multi-tasking.

From her research, she found that normally aging bilinguals had better cognitive functioning in comparison to normally aging monolinguals. She further studied Alzheimer’s patients and found on average, the bilinguals showed Alzheimer’s symptoms 5-6 years later than monolinguals.

Dr Bialystok’s research is fascinating. It gives you more reasons why learning another language is beneficial.

You can read more about her research here:

Source: New York Times

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