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.