In an interconnected world, being multilingual helps you forge valuable global connections and increase your chances of making it big in the world of business. But being multilingual is good for your brain too.
In a recent study, scientists report that people who speak two languages have more gray matter in the executive control region of their brains—the area that controls higher cognitive processes like thinking, analyzing, making connections, and synthesizing information—than monolinguals. The findings of this study corroborate and bolster data from earlier investigations that suggestedbilingualism can not only improve brain functioning but also keep age-related neural disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia at bay.
Bilingualism and brain function
The above-mentioned study was conducted on Spanish-English bilinguals, bilinguals of spoken English and American Sign Language (ASL), and English monolinguals. The scientists found that the Spanish-English bilinguals had greater volumes of gray matter than the other two groups.
This finding also answers why bilingual people have more gray matter than monolinguals. According to the researchers, managing two spoken languages—switching from one to another seamlessly—gives the brain a workout and increases neural flexibility. Bilinguals who are fluent in two tongues have to constantly process two languages and instantly choose which language to speak in to best express their thoughts.
In fact, this is the reason why bilinguals are also better at filtering out irrelevant information and processing greater volumes of data than monolinguals. After all, their brains get vigorous exercise constantly. This also explains why the bilinguals of spoken English and ASL did not have more gray matter than the monolinguals despite being able to speak and sign together.
Several studies have been carried out on the superior mental abilities of bilingual people. According to one study, bilingual people are NOT smarter than monolinguals. It is just that certain areas of the brains of bilingual people are more developed than those who speak only one language. That is because, the bilinguals are merely more expert in one task than monolingual people.
During this study, one group of subjects was made to intensively study a foreign language within 13 months. The control group too studied hard, but subjects other than languages. The fMRI scans showed that the subjects who studied languages had greater growth in the cerebral cortex region than the control group. The hippocampus too, grew in size amongst the language learners.
More studies corroborate the above findings. The more you use various regions of your brain, the stronger they become.