Being bilingual has benefits. Speaking a second language can boost the brain’s ability to multitask and take on multiple challenges at once – something we could all use.
According to Dr. Judith Kroll, a professor of psychology at Penn State University, bilingual people find it easier to work on multiple projects at once, and they can filter out distracting information better than those who only speak one language.
In a sense, speaking a second language forces the speaker to juggle between two languages and know when to use each one. This type of mental exercise gives the brain a workout that monolingual people don’t get, and builds a brain that’s more flexible and better able to tackle multiple concepts and projects at once.
Children who grow up speaking a second language have advantages too. According to Dr. Ellen Bialystok, a professor at York University in Toronto, bilingual kids can prioritize tasks more easily, which makes them more successful in school and better able to tackle challenges later in life.
Another benefit of being bilingual
All of that mental juggling of two languages pays off in another way. People who speak a second language may also keep symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease at bay. When Dr. Bialystok studied 450 people with Alzheimer’s disease, she found being bilingual delayed the onset of dementia symptoms by four to five years compared to those who spoke only one language.
What if you become bilingual later in life? There hasn’t been a lot of research focusing on learning a second language as an adult, but experts believe this benefits the brain too. The brain has a certain degree of plasticity, and you force it to grow and make new connections when you learn a second language.
The bottom line
Some parents worry that teaching their children two languages early in life creates word confusion. But it seems there are more benefits than drawbacks to being bilingual as a child. A child carries these benefits into adulthood where it could delay the onset of brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease.