Brainy Benefits of Bilingualism

3 advantages and 3 myths

Huria Met
Huria Met
Mar 18 · 3 min read
Photo by Josh Riemer on Unsplash

Bilingualism is the ability to use two languages in everyday life. It has been estimated that at least half of the world’s population is bilingual. However, it is difficult to know for certain. More on this discussion can be found here.

I grew up in a bilingual household and I realized that the more languages I learned as a child, the easier it was to learn another one. Being bilingual gave me the ability to connect with people from different backgrounds and develop a strong personal identity.

In this article, we are going to look at 3 advantages of a child growing up as a bilingual and tackle 3 myths surrounding bilingualism.

  1. One of the most overlooked advantages of bilingualism is the ability to know languages that will be important for traveling, employment, and making friends with people from different backgrounds. It gives the individual an immersive experience of culture and customs.
  2. Bilingual children are able to navigate more complex social situations and understand certain subtle features of communication compared to monolinguals. This is because they are able to switch between different languages to maintain effective communication. A neuroscientific review, involving neuroimaging, showed that bilinguals may require less neural resources to support their level of cognitive performance compared to monolinguals, suggesting better neural efficiency.
  3. Given the empirical evidence (Chertkow et al. 2010 and Alladi et al. 2016) surrounding cognitive benefits of bilingualism, being bilingual could serve as a cognitive reserve in bilinguals and they would show less age-related cognitive decline compared to monolinguals. As we get older, there is a cognitive decline in performance that requires constant switching between tasks. Using more than one language on a regular basis serves as training for the cognitive control system. Moreover, it is shown that older bilinguals maintain higher white matter integrity than age-matched monolinguals. More on this study can be found here.

These are some myths surrounding bilingualism:

  1. Bilingualism causes confusion to the child: “code-switching” is a term that describes the ability of a child to use both languages within the same sentence in a conversation. This is a natural part of being bilingual and not a sign of language delay or confusion.
  2. You have to be proficient in both languages in order to be bilingual: most bilinguals have a dominant language, which is determined by the society they live in. This can change with age, education, social network, and other factors. They don’t have to master both languages in order to be called bilingual.
  3. You have to become bilingual at a young age: There is a theory that there is a critical window (rapid development of the brain) in which the child is more likely to become fluent in a second language. However, older children and adults can become fluent in a second language too.

In conclusion, learning languages is not only beneficial in social environments but it can have a long-term positive impact on an individual’s cognitive function. Hence, it improves their multitasking, problem-solving, and attention control skills. It’s never too late to learn a second, third, or even fourth language!

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