We have seen a number of studies on why and how speaking more than one language may help build a Cognitive Reserve (interview with Yaakov Stern) that protects us against cognitive decline. This article does a good job at explaining what may be going on (bold added by me):
- Bialystok, who began studying bilingual kids decades ago, believes one key to their special brainpower lies in the way they must constantly decide which language to use and which to suppress.
- For people who use two languages daily, “every time you want to speak one language, the other language is activated” in the brain as well, she said. “That means you need a mechanism so that you’re only drawing from the right pool (of words). It’s going be a mechanism that works extremely fast … while you’re producing sentences. It’s way below your radar for detecting what’s happening.”
- So bilinguals get far more practice than monolinguals in using the part of the brain that focuses our attention, helping us sort through conflicting information and ignore distractions. Using two languages seems to bolster rapid decision-making, multi-tasking and perhaps memory.
In short: learning and speaking a foreign language provides constant brain exercise to the frontal lobes (see basic brain anatomy), the area of the brain right behind your forehead that focuses our attention, helps us ignore distractions, and make decisions.
Have a nice Easter time.