How knowing many languages may benefit your brain
Language is a quite complex task for your brain and requires even more resources if you know more than one.
According to the common belief, children growing up with two or more languages may be at a disadvantage. However, as it turns out this mental exercise has benefits and may lead your brain to process information more efficiently, even for old people.
First of all, bilingual minds have more grey matter in their brains, which contains neurons that function in cognition and high cognitive processes. Also, in comparison to monolinguals, bilinguals have other benefits, which are:
Improved cognitive control abilities
Boosted mental flexibility
Better handling of tasks involving inhibition, switching and conflict monitoring
These benefits apply to all ages, from kids to elder people. Bilingual children have advantages in visual, spatial and verbal working memory compared to monolingual children.
For older adults, being bilingual may offer even more advantages. Study suggests that bilingual elder people have greater cognitive reserve, a “protective mechanism that increases the brain’s ability to cope with pathology.”
This may be one explanation why bilinguals also have delayed beginning of cognitive decline by up to 4.5 years compared to monolinguals, even for diseases such as dementia, including Alzheimer’s. To put it simply, knowing more than one language appears to help ward off cognitive decline.
According to a study published in Neurology lifelong bilingualism provides protection against the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease. The effect does not appear to be conditional to such possible confusing factors as education, job position or immigration. Bilingualism thus appears to support cognitive capability, which acts to compensate for the effects of accumulated neuropathology.
Different experts have suggested that the benefits of learning a new language come just from the learning itself. It’s true – even if you’re not too keen about learning a new language, being engaged in other activities that have purpose and meaning, stimulates your neurological system, counters the effects of stress-related diseases, enhances your health and well-being and also reduces the risk of dementia.