Benefits of bilingualism

According to a report on ScienceDaily, speaking two languages may help stave off dementia by up four years compared to people who are monolingual. Being bilingual, along with physical activity, education and social engagement help to build “cognitive reserve”, which includes enhanced neural plasticity (the ability of nerve cells in the brain to change their function and to make new connections), compensatory use of alternative brain regions, and enriched brain blood supply, all of which are thought to delay the onset of dementia.

The study, which is published in the February 2007 issue of Neuropsychologia, compared the records of 184 patients at a clinic in Toronto, Canada. About half the patients studied were bilingual while the rest were monolingual. The researchers found that the mean age of onset of dementia symptoms in the monolingual group was 71.4 years, while the bilingual group was 75.5 years.

A similar study carried out a few years ago at York University in the UK demonstrated similar results.

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7 Responses to Benefits of bilingualism

  1. jdotjdot89 says:

    Does anyone know–can studying a language for years and years and years ever help someone achieve the same level of proficiency as someone who was multilingual since childhood?

  2. jdwhite says:

    The relationship may be spurious. It is possible that higher intelligence causes people the ability to learn another language and also causes a later onset of dementia. It would be interesting to know if these were native bilingual speakers (say in Quebec).

  3. Alain Vaillancourt says:

    The summary of the 2006 study doesn’t say at all how the scientists defined “bilingualism” and/or tested for it. It could mean a lot of things, some of them contradictory.

    On the other hand the sumary of the 2004 study at least tells us that they were measured for their current language skills.

  4. BG says:

    jdotjdot89: I’m nowhere close to an expert but I would guess that if you were surrounded by native speakers and you studied for a long time you could reach near native proficiency.

  5. renato says:

    In spite being controversial, the studies are important, when saying that if you make your brain to work in two or more different things at the same time, you have a great chance in not have brain malfunction. As Brazil is a enormous country, with 200 million people speaking the same language is more difficult than in Canada, to be bilinguistics, any way I thing when you begin to study a different language you are saying to your brain to work
    house is equal casa ( in portuguese) teach (in irish) huis in Dutch…
    I think this is much better for your brain than to know only that house is house.

  6. Osman says:

    @jdotjdot89: it totally depends. There is a term called ‘lateralization’. It is about our brains and around 12-13, our brains both sides have almost been shaped. Besides, our speech muscles’ development stop. So, experts say that it is difficult to speak a language %100 like a native speaker if you learn it after 12-13. But of course, if you live in a country where your target language is spoken, you can have an accent similar to their accents. Well, to be honest, i don’t think it is possible to talk like native speakers if you have never been next to them and live a few months. Of course if you don’t have a native speaker in your own city :) But one should try it, though. If you have enough resources and got feedback, why not? My two cents.

  7. [...]This week, i have discovered Omniglot’s Blog which seems to be a quite popular place for language geeks. I’d better to check it out regularly. Because there are useful and interesting posts there. Recently, there was a post about benefits of being bilingual. Well, i have always believed that learning a new language never bites! It has lots of advantages, see?[...]