“Bilingualism alters the structure and function of the mind…bilingual minds are different not because bilingualism itself creates advantages or disadvantages, but because bilinguals recruit mental resources differently from monolinguals”.1
1) Better overall cognitive abilities, including improved memory and decision-making. A key discovery in the study on bilingualism is the overwhelming evidence that both languages are active when a bilingual is using either language, whether they are consciously using the language or not.1 Bilinguals are constantly exercising their brains by choosing which language to use, and when brains are consistently exercising in that way, it doesn’t have to work as hard to perform cognitive tasks.2
2) Better inhibitory control. Bilinguals can filter out irrelevant information much quicker than monolinguals. In one UK study, bilingual children were much better at filtering out unimportant classroom noise than their monolingual classmates.3 Have you ever taken that test where the word ‘purple’ is shown in red, and you’re supposed to call out the color of the word and not read the word you’re staring at? That’s called the Stroop test, and another study was done comparing results of the Stroop test between bilinguals and monolinguals. The majority of the time bilinguals perform better on this task because of their ability to recognize the relevant information more quickly. 4
3) Slower aging. Studies have shown bilinguals onset for Alzheimers and dementia is about 5 years later than monolinguals.4 This is thought to be caused by the built in exercise that inhibitory control provides. Being bilingual is like having your brain constantly playing brain games and solving puzzles to stay sharp.
4) Enhanced creativity. Many poets and linguists have said that they think language restricts one’s understanding of the world. It is thought that bilinguals have a more fluid sense of creativity because they understand multiple cultural realities. A study was done with over 100 9-year-olds to see how bilingualism affects creative thinking. Dr. Fraser Lauchlan, the lead author of the study, said in a press release, “Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively. We also assessed the children’s vocabulary, not so much for their knowledge of words as their understanding of them. Again, there was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils.”3 People who learn a second language tend to have a greater understanding of ideas and concepts rather than having a more streamlined thought process.
5) Social benefits. To top off all of the brain benefits, there are endless social benefits to being bilingual. Learning a second language allows you to explore a new culture through its native tongue and opens you up to a whole new world of people to communicate with.
1) Kroll, J. F., & Bialystok, E. (2013). Understanding the Consequences of Bilingualism for Language Processing and Cognition. Journal of Cognitive Psychology (Hove, England), 25(5), 10.1080/20445911.2013.799170. http://doi.org/10.1080/20445911.2013.799170
2) Northwestern University. (2014, November 12). Bilingual brains better equipped to process information. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 6, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141112084504.htm
3) Bilingual Children ‘Better at Problem-Solving Skills’.” BBC News, BBC, 3 Aug. 2012, www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-19109883.
4) “Cerebrum.” The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual, 31 Oct. 2012, dana.org/Cerebrum/2012/The_Cognitive_Benefits_of_Being_Bilingual/.