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The benefits of speaking more than one language

An article in the Wall Street Journal today, Building a More Resilient Brain, reviews the work of Dr. Bialystok and her colleagues on the benefits that bilingualism brings to the brain. Another great example of neuroplasticity.

… over time, regularly speaking more than one language appears to strengthen skills that boost the brain’s so-called cognitive reserve, a capacity to work even when stressed or damaged. This build-up of cognitive reserve appears to help bilingual people as they age.

… the process of speaking two or more languages appears to enable people to develop skills to better cope with the early symptoms of memory-robbing diseases, including Alzheimer’s. […] the advantages of bilingualism are thought to be related to a brain function known as inhibitory or cognitive control: the ability to stop paying attention to one thing and focus on something else

Comments: What if I only speak one language? Would it be beneficial to start learning one now? Would I need to speak it everyday? Would it help me built reserve? Unfortunately science does not have evidence-based answers to these questions yet… But learning a new language follows the recipe for a good mental exercise as outlined in The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: Variety, Challenge and Novelty.

  • Vari­ety: to stim­u­late mul­ti­ple func­tions of the brain.
  • Chal­lenge:  to avoid routine.
  • Nov­elty:  to stimulate parts of the brain such as the pre­frontal cor­tex that are mostly exer­cised when we learn to mas­ter new cog­ni­tive challenges.

As such, learning a new language is a great mental exercise. However it cannot be the magic answer to everything. As you know, brain maintenance requires a multi-faceted approach comprising at least a variety of brain stimulation, balanced nutrition, stress management, socialization and physical exercise.

Related post: Mental stimulation: building a Brain/ Cognitive Reserve with novelty, variety and challenge

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