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6 Surprising Brain benefits of Learning a Second Language
The latest studies about the brain and bilingualism suggest that bilingualism can shape our brains in a good way. Here are 6 benefits:
The trick is that people who can speak two languages use one at any given moment and NOT the other. People who speak two languages often outperform monolinguals on general measures of executive function. “Bilinguals” can pay focused attention without being distracted and also improve in the ability to switch from one task to another,” says Sorace.
Young children being raised bilingual have to follow social cues to figure out which language to use with which person and in what setting. As a result, says Sorace, bilingual children as young as age 3 have demonstrated a head start on tests of perspective-taking and theory of mind — both of which are essentially social and emotional skills.
They can be more aware of the need of others, knowing what language is socially accepted and silenced the other when it is not (because the other person doesn’t know it)
Reading (in English)
Some studies suggest that children in dual-language classes are better at decoding a text (what the text wants to say). They are good at solving the puzzle that a text can present.
School performance and engagement
In studies covering six states and 37 districts, they have found that, compared with students in English-only classrooms or in one-way immersion, dual-language students have somewhat higher test scores and also seem to be happier in school. Attendance is better, behavioral problems fewer, parent involvement higher.
Diversity and integration
American public school classrooms as a whole are becoming more segregated by race and class. Dual-language programs can be an exception. Because they are composed of native English speakers deliberately placed together with recent immigrants, they tend to be more ethnically and socioeconomically balanced. And there is some evidence that this helps kids of all backgrounds gain comfort with diversity and different cultures.
Protection against cognitive decline and dementia
Specifically, among patients with Alzheimer’s in a Canadian study, a group of bilingual adults performed on par with a group of monolingual adults in terms of cognitive tests and daily functioning. But when researchers looked at the two groups’ brains, they found evidence of brain atrophy that was five to seven years more advanced in the bilingual group.
In other words, the adults who spoke two languages were carrying on longer at a higher level despite greater degrees of damage.