A Multilingual brain helps in More Ways Than Previously Thought

A study done by Victoria Marian, who studies cognitive and neurological effects of bilingualism at Northwestern University, proved that being bilingual isn’t just about the benefit of gaining a better cultural insight or more people to speak with.

imagesPlaying the piano, working on math and learning a language are usually categorized with the same sort of benefits. Not only do all three of these learned skills enable a fuller life, they require hard work and concentration.

Hard-work and concentration are extremely beneficial for the brain, especially in the present world where concentration and hard-work are put on the back-burner to make use of quicker rewarded activities.

We all know this. So, what has Marian proved?

Unlike learning the piano or studying math, language has the advantage to make a brain think “twice.”

In Marian’s study, monolingual and multi/bilingual volunteers between the ages of 18-27 were asked to listen to a string of different words, and then be shown pictures that suited the word. For example, the word cloud would be heard and then the picture of a cloud would be shown. After the word cloud the volunteers would hear similar words such as clown. The volunteers were asked to simply choose each picture that matched to each word.

From this Marian concluded: “Bilingual people were no faster at completing the task than those who only speak one language. However, the monolingual volunteers were forced to activate regions in their brains associated with inhibition and executive control when completing this routine task. Bilingual volunteers, because their brains were always filtering out words from another language, had very little activation in these brain regions.”

Compared to math and piano, we use language much, much more. Language is a constant thing we use daily. When a language is learned, the same word for “chair” is also “Stuhl” in another language. When looking at the four legged piece of furniture, our brains automatically look through every possible word for that four legged furniture. When in pleasant conversation, to be sure there isn’t a slip up with an incorrect word, the brain has to routinely filter out words. Basically, bilingual individuals are thinking twice.

Those of you reading this can now give language learning yet another winning point. With so much gained from language learning it’s a surprise that America’s educational system is hard-pressed to require a second learned language. But alas that idea deserves its own post. Keep updated with our blog to find out more on language.



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