Challenge Yourself & Give Your Mind a Good Workout!

How can you give your mind a good workout? Did you know that 2 simultaneously active language systems improve the aspects of cognition?

In recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter.

Read more to learn about how speaking two languages, rather than just one, has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world!


They were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when a person is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are figuring out, isn’t so much a handicap as it is a blessing in disguise.

Being bilingual forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles. Why does the tussle between two simultaneously active language systems improve these aspects of cognition? 

Until recently, researchers thought the bilingual advantage stemmed primarily from an ability for inhibition that was honed by the exercise of suppressing one language system: this suppression, it was thought, would help train the bilingual mind to ignore distractions in other contexts. But that explanation increasingly appears to be inadequate, since studies have shown that bilinguals perform better than monolinguals even at tasks that do not require inhibition, like threading a line through an ascending series of numbers scattered randomly on a page.

Know more than one language

The key difference between bilinguals and monolinguals may be more basic: a heightened ability to monitor the environment. “Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often — you may talk to your father in one language and to your mother in another language,” says Albert Costa, a researcher at the University of Pompeu Fabra in Spain. “It requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving.”

In a study comparing German-Italian bilinguals with Italian monolinguals on monitoring tasks, Mr. Costa and his colleagues found that the bilingual subjects not only performed better, but they also did so with less activity in parts of the brain involved in monitoring, indicating that they were more efficient at it.

Effects on the brain

Bilingualism’s effects also extend into the twilight years. In a recent study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals, scientists led by the neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego, found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism — measured through a comparative evaluation of proficiency in each language — were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.

Nobody ever doubted the power of the word. But who would have imagined that to give your mind a good workout by speaking more than one language might be leaving such a deep imprint?

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