Is there an advantage to speaking more than one language? The cognitive neuroscientist, Ellen Bialystok has much of her adult life studying how it is that bilingualism sharpens the mind. For example, she and her fellow researchers have found that when it comes to the development of age-related neurodegenerative diseases, in one study, published in 2004, “normally aging bilinguals had better cognitive functioning than normally aging monolinguals.” In a study that followed a few years later, evidence showed that on average, “bilinguals showed Alzheimer’s symptoms five or six years later than those who only spoke one language. This didn’t mean that the bilinguals didn’t have Alzheimer’s. It meant that as the disease took root in their brains, they were able to continue functioning at a higher level. They could cope with the disease for longer.”
Speaking Chinese, Spanish or French or whatever second language may not be a means for prevention for neurodegenerative diseases, but maybe more-so than doing an extra sudoku or crossword a day, learning and constantly using another language has the potential to sharpen our brains in both youth and old-age.
Read more about Bialystok’s research on bilingualism in her recent NY Times interview.