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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

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

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