Knowing a second language can give you a career advantage, and now recent studies suggest that there may also be health benefits if you are truly bilingual (or multilingual). Regularly using that second language may delay Alzheimer's symptoms and increase your multitasking abilities.Photo by University of Salford.
Using two languages regularly appears to rewire the brain, allowing bilingual people to make different kinds of problem-solving connections and better hold two different ideas on their minds at the same time. One of the manifestations of this is the ability to multitask better, according to Dr Ellen Bialystok, who has researched bilingualism for nearly 40 years.
These structural changes in the brain may also help bilinguals function at a higher level even with the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Compared to Alzheimer's patients who only spoke one language, bilingual Alzheimer's patients showed symptoms five or six years later.
Simply having studied a second language (e.g. years ago in high school) isn't enough, however; you'll need to use both languages all the time for these benefits. A study cited by WebMD suggests that the greatest brain boosts are in people who learned a second language before the age of five.
But perhaps it's never too late to learn a second language or increase your use of one you already know. In fact, application is the key to learning a new language quickly.
The main takeaway of this research may be for parents: teaching your kids a second language is an incredible gift, for more reasons than one.
The Bilingual Advantage [New York Times]