Working with multilingual children and being bilingual myself, made me curious about the way bilinguals think and perform. There is a lot of new research on this subject. New research into the neurobiology of bilingualism has found that being fluent in two or more languages, particularly at an early age, can change the way the brain works and make it differ from those who are monolingual.
Language ability is measured in two active parts: speaking and writing and in two passive parts: reading and listening. A balanced bilingual has almost equal abilities in both languages however, most bilinguals use their languages in varying proportions.
I have noticed that depending on the situation that is being described or analysed, I use one specific language. Sometimes, I switch from Greek to English, even within a sentence. In order to keep the train of though and the conversation flowing, I very often end up using the first word that comes to mind, in whichever language, This of course has as a result, that I end up sounding odd and less proficient in both languages. But, in my defence finding the right word can require a lot of brain-digging, time, and stalling to find it is the last think you want to do when you are in the midst of a conversation. I’m sure many of you reading this will be able to relate. However, it’s not all bad, there is an upside to all this!
So, what are the benefits of being multilingual? Read on to find out!
- Being bilingual gives your brain an extra workout! The effort and attention needed to switch between languages triggers more activity and consequently strengthens the part of the brain that plays a large role in problem solving, switching between tasks and focusing while filtering out irrelevant information.
- Keeps your brain healthy. The heightened workout of a bilingual’s brain keeps it healthy, like exercise keeps your body healthy. Being bilingual can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and Dementia by as much as 5 years. That’s not bad just for knowing an additional language…
- Higher density of brain matter. Brain scans show that a bilingual’s brain has higher density of the grey matter that contains most of the brain’s neurons and synapses. Also, certain regions of the brain are found to be more active when a person engages in a second language.
- New languages are learnt easier and faster. Have you ever wondered why is it that children learn new languages with greater ease compared to adults? This is because the plasticity of their developing brains allows them to use both hemispheres for the acquisition of a new language! Adults tend to use only one hemisphere, usually the left, which is responsible for words, logic, numbers, analysis, lists, linearity and sequence. Each language you learn, even as an adult, will serve as a scaffold to learn another language. You will be able to build on grammatical structures and concepts behind words as well as find links between the languages if they are close in proximity.
Being bilingual or multilingual does not make you smarter but, it does make your brain healthier and more active. Now, if you weren’t lucky enough to have learnt a second language at an early age, it’s never too late to start! You’ll be giving your brain a great workout and doing it a huge favour!
On that note, maybe I should start some Spanish lessons… 🙂
Hope you found this post informative!
Μέχρι την επόμενη φορά… (Till next time…)