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Monday, January 20, 2014

Being Bilingual: How Does The Brain Benefit From Being Fluent In Two Languages





Newly born babies have such a flexible brain that is so talented for languages that they could be able to speak fluently in any of the 6,800 languages currently spoken in the world. And even though only nine months afterwards, this talent begins to fade, by the time we are old enough to start with formal schooling, we still have a remarkable ability to learn a second or third language.

Being bilingual does not only have a positive impact in people’s employment possibilities but it also affects their social abilities in a way that no other ability does. Recent scientific studies show that bilingual and multilingual people have developed the possibility of fluently reading and writing in at least a foreign language as well as to: deal better with ambiguities, solve conflicts faster and more efficiently and resist the Alzheimer’s disease longer than people who only manage one language fluently.

Social Benefits of Bilinguism

From the social point of view, the benefits of being bilingual cannot be doubted. Teachers, education experts in general, linguists and social analysts agree on the fact that exposing a child to a second language from a very early age:

  • ·         Provides children with a more flexible thinking and a greater sensitivity not only to language but also to cultural issues.
  • ·         Enables children to communicate with people from different cultures, thus increasing their awareness of world issues.
  • ·         Enables children to appreciate cultural, ethnical and social diversity.
  • ·         Promotes children’s mental and intellectual development.
  • ·         Improves the way children understand their mother tongue.
Brain Plasticity and Being Bilingual

But, in which way does the brain benefit from being bilingual? Being fluent in two or more languages has a positive effect on our brain’s neuroplasticity. In other words, it has an advantageous impact on the plasticity of our brain.

Neuroscientists have discovered that knowing how to speak and write in more than one language challenges our brain to create different neural pathways and synapses. These new connections make our brain not only more flexible but also encourage it to create new circuits that keep it young no matter our physical age.

In fact, it has been proven that our brain is not a static organ. Just as any other muscle in our body, it changes physically as we challenge it and force it to make new synapse connections.

Being fluent in more than one language is a way to stimulate our brain’s plasticity. Reading a passage in a language and then joining a conversation in another language forces our brain to constantly restructure itself, reorganize and create new synapses that help our brain to be more alert, more active and highly more responsive. As we learn new vocabulary or a new grammar tense, our brain is constantly adding, saving and relating that new info to previous concepts we have learnt so that our brain’s plasticity if always put to the test.

In such a context, children who are exposed to a bilingual environment from a very early age have plenty of opportunities to expand their neuroplasticity and this means that, in the future, they will have more tools to fight against Alzheimer’s disease as well as many other mental illnesses.
As it can be appreciated, learning languages is beneficial for our brain.

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