Magazine article Work & Family Life

Bilingualism Boosts Kids' Brain Power

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Bilingualism Boosts Kids' Brain Power

Article excerpt

In our increasingly global world, it helps to speak two languages. And now, it turns out, being bilingual offers much more than a practical leg up. It has a powerful effect on the brain in areas not related to language - and it may even shield against dementia in old age.

New brain research has upended the conventional wisdom about bilingualism. Through much of the past century, a second language was thought of as an interference that hindered a child's academic and intellectual development.

This view is apparently wrong on all counts. While it's true that both language systems are active when only one language is being used, the interference is now being seen more as a blessing than a handicap.

By forcing the brain to resolve internal conflict, bilingualism gives the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles. The tussle back and forth between two simultaneously active language systems seems to improve aspects of cognition.

This starts to show up early. A study of bilingual and monolingual preschoolers by Canadian psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee found that bilinguals were more adept at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles. …

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