Being multilingual sharpens the brain

Saturday, February 19, 2011

WASHINGTON - According to researchers, being able to speak more than one language sharpens the brain.

The study indicates that bilingual speakers can outperform monolinguals in prioritising tasks and working on multiple projects at one time.

“We would probably refer to most of these cognitive advantages as multi-tasking. Bilinguals seem to be better at this type of perspective taking,” said Judith Kroll, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Penn State.

“The belief was that people who could speak two or more languages had difficulty using either. The bottom line is that bilingualism is good for you.”

In a skill that Kroll calls mental juggling, bilinguals when speaking to each other can easily slip in and out of languages in order to express themselves more clearly but fluent bilinguals do not make the same mistake while speaking to a person who is multilingual.

“The important thing that we have found is that both languages are open for bilinguals; in other words, there are alternatives available in both languages,” Kroll said.

“Even though language choices may be on the tip of their tongue, bilinguals rarely make a wrong choice.”

This mental juggling improves certain mental skills, which may protect them from problems associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

However, bilingualism doesn’t necessarily make them more intelligent or better learners.

“Bilinguals simply acquire specific types of expertise that help them attend to critical tasks and ignore irrelevant information,” Kroll said.

Kroll presented the study yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington D.C. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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