Being Bilingual Can Help With Cognitive Skills

Sprichst du Deutsch? A recent study reveals that being bilingual can be a great plus in resumes and a cognitive helper later in life.

According to a study published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, being bilingual may also help cognitive functioning later in life. German researchers analyzed hundreds of elderly patients and discovered that those who claimed to have spoken two languages regularly at a young age performed better on learning, memory, language, and self-control tests than those who spoke just one.

The results support previous research from the past two decades that suggests bilingualism shields against dementia and cognitive decline in older persons.

Though not all of their findings have been agreed upon, researchers have recently learned more about bilingualism and the aging brain. Per prior research, those who speak two languages fluently tend to experience dementia at a later age than those who only speak one language.

However, studies still need to demonstrate an advantage of bilingualism. Since multilingual individuals can easily switch between two languages, neuroscientists speculate that they may be able to apply similar tactics to other abilities, such as multitasking, emotion regulation, and self-control, that help prevent dementia in the future.

The 746 participants in the research ranged in age from 59 to 76. About 40% of the participants had standard memory, whereas the remaining volunteers were patients in memory clinics with memory loss or disorientation. Each participant was administered a range of vocabulary, memory, attention, and math activities.

For instance, they were required to remember previously identified things, spell words backward, follow three-part instructions, and imitate drawings that were shown to them.

Compared to volunteers who were not bilingual at similar ages, those who said they used a second language daily between the ages of 13 and 30 or between the ages of 30 and 65 performed better on tests of language, memory, focus, attention, and decision-making.

A novel strategy is to look into bilingualism at various phases of life, says Boon Lead Tee, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, with The New York Times.

She says that the study's authors may produce further innovative conclusions with the study's impressively high sample size, such as whether the age at which a person learned each language impacted that person's cognition in later life. She warned that the study only continuously examined using two languages for extended periods as one element of bilingualism.

Another element, such as the age at which the two languages were encoded into memory, or the specific demographic or life circumstances of bilingual individuals, maybe the reason for the beneficial benefits on cognition. Other experts concurred that if participants were questioned about their use of a second language once a week or even less often as opposed to every day, the outcomes might have been different.

"I think there isn't a definition that everybody agrees upon, and I think there will never be because being bilingual is a full spectrum," says a language researcher at Harvard University, Esti Blanco-Elorrieta.

Additionally, Blanco-Elorrieta, a multilingual person who knows Basque, English, German, and Spanish, stressed the importance of future studies examining the broader advantages of bilingualism.

She concludes: "The advantage of being bilingual doesn't really lie on these milliseconds of advantage that one can have in a cognitive task. I think the importance of being bilingual is being able to communicate with two cultures and two ways of seeing the world."


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