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Bilingualism a Factor in Predicting Brain Health

by learningdiscoveries on July 31, 2014

Speaking another language is more beneficial than previously thought. According to a new study, learning a second language helps improve cognitive function and may assist with clear thinking. The benefits were present even for those who started learning a new language as an adult.

One example is with the development of dementia.

In a study on cognitive aging, Thomas H. Bak of the University of Edinburgh Centre found that bilingual individuals with dementia started showing symptoms four to five years later than those individuals who only spoke one language.

Did those who were fluent in a second language already have a healthier brain to start with or did learning keep their brains active longer? The exact answer is difficult to measure given the numerous factors involved. But research done by Bak shows a degree of certainty on the cognitive impact of bilingualism.

In a new study, older bilinguals and monolinguals were given cognitive tests to measure aspects of their cognition. The results of the study showed that those who spoke a second language scored better on intelligence testing and was a factor in predicting brain health.

The findings are significant and demonstrate that bilingualism has lasting benefits.

A data set was used consisting of 853 Scottish participants to conduct the study. The participants were given an intelligence test at the age of 11 and retested again between 2008 and 2010 in their 70s. Of the participants, 262 learned a second language in addition to English with most before the age of 18. Only 90 were still activity learning a second language at the time of testing.

The results of the study were clear: Those who were bilingual scored higher on reading, verbal fluency, and overall intelligence. And this was true for the 65 individuals who began learning their second language after the age of 18. This suggests that the age at which an individual learns a new language is not a major factor in terms of reaping long term benefits.

Being bilingual improves certain mental functions connected to the frontal lobe of the brain. It means that individuals have to learn to simultaneously manage and control two languages. This helps to improve fluid intelligence and other areas of cognition.

The results from the study performed by Bak show that learning a new language has clear benefits even for those who decide to do so at a later age. Older bilinguals scored better on cognitive tests compared to monolinguals. Additional research needs to be done but the results are promising.

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Rosemary Boon

Registered Psychologist

M.A. (Psych),
Grad. Dip. Ed. Studies (Sch. Counsel),
Grad Dip. Ed. B Sc, Dip. Nut.
MAPS, AACNEM, ATMS, ISNR, ANSA.

Provider No. 2582331F ATMS No. 20831
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