There are many benefits to knowing more than one language. Scientists think using two languages provides the brain with plenty of practice exercising a certain kind of cognitive control.
When a person is bilingual, for example, he or she has two different languages constantly active in their mind. In order to speak one language without intrusions from the other, the speaker’s brain needs to suppress the language that isn’t being used.
One Or The Other
Researchers have argued the same mental processes and skills that allow us to do things such as focus our attention, remember directions, and control impulses work in the bilingual brain to suppress the language that isn’t being used.
In fact, studies seem to show that thanks to the practice the brain receives while managing two languages, bilingual folks may gain some mental advantages even beyond the realm of language control.
Researchers found that a lifetime spent speaking two languages appears to slow the rate of decline for some mental processes as people age, and other studies suggest advantages that have to do with creativity and problem‑solving.
Thank you to Isabelle Darcy of Indiana University for reviewing this episode’s script.
Sources And Further Reading:
- Bialystok, E., Craik, F. M., Klein, R., & Viswanathan, M. (2004). Bilingualism, Aging, and Cognitive Control: Evidence From the Simon Task. Psychology And Aging, 19(2), 290‑303.
- “Executive Function & Self‑Regulation.” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.