Bilingualism Boosts Cognitive Abilities, Study Finds

Languages3 June 20143.1k

Obviously we may be a bit biased, but we think being bilingual is really important.

Not only will it help with professional development, as firms will be attracted to people who can speak more than one language, but it's now a proven fact that it is also good for your brain.

A study carried out by the University of Edinburgh and published in the Annals of Neurology – which is a journal of the American Neurological Association and Child Neurology Society – has found cognitive decline from aging can be slowed down by becoming proficient in another language.

Even if individuals only acquire the second language in adulthood, there appear to be long-lasting benefits for them – something our members of staff will be very happy about!

The benefits of being bilingual

As part of the investigation, 835 native speakers of English who were born in 1936 and living in the area of Edinburgh, Scotland were given an intelligence test at 11 years old and retested in their early 70s, between 2008 and 2010.

Some 260 were found to be at least bilingual and 195 had learned the second language before age 18. By analyzing the performance of the people in the two tests, it was discovered those who could speak extra languages had significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would be expected from their baseline, with a particular aptitude in general intelligence and reading.

On top of this, the improvements in attention, focus and fluency could not simply be explained by original intelligence levels.

Lead author Dr Thomas Bak said it is the first study to look at "whether learning a second language impacts cognitive performance later in life while controlling for childhood intelligence".

"[It] offers a unique opportunity to study the interaction between bilingualism and cognitive aging, taking into account the cognitive abilities predating the acquisition of a second language," he added.

The power of learning

Dr Bak thinks the research has "considerable practical relevance", as it demonstrates just how beneficial it can be for people to learn a second language, regardless of what stage of life they are at. 

With further studies planned on the link between bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention, it could be the case that even more compelling reasons are discovered for being bilingual. 

Indeed, a previous study by Edinburgh University and Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India suggested people who are monolingual are more likely to be affected by dementia at a younger age.

Bilingualism was also associated with a later onset of Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia. 

It was found the requirement to switch between different sounds, words, concepts, grammatical structures and social norms when speaking more than one language acts as natural brain training.

So, there you have it, being bilingual is great for you. Although, having worked in the localization industry for such a long time, people at EQHO have known this for quite a while!


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