October is Bilingual Child Month. And these days, more of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual than ever before. In fact, the Associated Press reports that up to 66% of the world’s children speak two languages these days. And being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter.
Multiple studies have shown that speaking another language besides your native tongue is a great way to condition your brain and keep it in tiptop shape- especially if you are consistently speaking different languages throughout your lifetime.
Here are 5 scientifically backed cognitive benefits that have been shown to come along with speaking more than one language.
YOU ARE SMARTER
A 2004 study focusing on preschoolers found that those who could speak two or more languages had higher levels of cognitive brain function, were better at solving problems, planning, and other “mentally demanding tasks.”
Wondering why? The researchers who conducted the study believe that bilinguals are often forced to shift between languages everyday, which is like an overall workout and conditioning for the brain.
Think of speaking multiple languages being brain conditioning like that of a professional physical athlete.
YOU HAVE A BETTER MEMORY
If you speak multiple languages, you know it requires lots and lots of remembering.
Studies have shown that bilinguals, when given tasks regarding memory, score higher than those who can only speak one language.
For example, in one reputable 2013 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, 125 children 5- or 7-year-olds performed a visuospatial span task that manipulated other executive function components through simultaneous or sequential presentation of items.
The study along with another published in 2013 found Bilinguals outperformed monolinguals overall.
YOU HAVE A MORE VIBRANT PERSONALITY
In 1968, sociolinguist Susan Ervin studied Japanese women living in the U.S. who were bilingual.
Ervin asked participants to complete a series of sentences in both languages, and found that not only was the wording different, but the intention behind the words was different, too. She believes this is because of the cultural differences with the languages.
In 2003, this was again confirmed by linguists Jean-Marc Dewaele and Aneta Pavlenko over a two-year study which involved thousands of bilinguals.
Of those who participated in the study, two-thirds reported that they really did “feel like a different person,” when speaking another language.
I guess this partly explains why I feel like Penelope Cruz’s character from Vicky Cristina Barcelona whenever I break out my spanish.
YOU ARE PROTECTING YOURSELF AGAINST DEMENTIA
In a recent 2012 study focusing on 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals, a team of researchers led at the University of California, San Diego, found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
So according to the study’s findings, the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of dementia onset.
Keep in mind though this isn’t to suggest that being bilingual is a cure for diseases like dementia. Rather think of it as the higher the language proficiency, the longer dementia onset can be curbed.
YOU ARE BETTER AT MULTITASKING
Researchers sponsored by the philanthropic organization The Dana Foundation have shown that the bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to inhibit one language while using another.
In addition, the same 2012 study published in Cerebrum displayed that bilingualism has positive effects at at any age, so it’s never too late to start learning another language.
For example, the study showed that bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline.
BEING BILINGUAL IN THE U.S.
Did you know that with more than 37 million speakers, the U.S. Census Bureau says that Spanish is by far the most spoken non-English language in the U.S. today among people ages 5 and older?
About 62% of U.S. Hispanic adults are bilingual, according to an analysis of the Pew Research Center’s 2013 National Survey of Latinos. And the first generation latino adults who are children of immigrant parents are the most likely to be bilingual.
But only about 1 in 4 Americans speak a second language well enough to hold a conversation.
JUST START TALKING, I MEAN, EMPIEZA A HABLAR
So I ask- in honor of October being bilingual month-switch up your language when you can.
It can be as simple as counting from 1-10 in French while stretching, singing a Shakira song written in spanish, asking a friend who is multi-lingual to teach you new a new phrase everyday, tinkering around on duolingo every now and then, or giving a relative a call so you can brush up on your own native tongue you may have let fall to the wayside.
You have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone speaking another language in order to reap the benefits.
I’m going to enjoy daily calls with my grandmother who speaks Gallego, a mix of spanish and english.
Remember- Conditioning of any kind often takes discomfort.
Get out of your comfort zone this month global citizens!
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