From Dr. Mercola:
More than half of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual, which means if you only speak one language, you’re in the minority. This isn’t the case in the U.S., where only about 1 in 4 Americans speak a second language well enough to hold a conversation.1
There are obvious benefits to being bilingual — like the ability to communicate with people from around the world for business or social purposes. In the U.S., most people believe learning a second language is valuable though not necessarily essential.
In other areas of the world, however, numerous languages may be spoken in a small geographic area. And even if your home life doesn’t necessitate another language, in today’s digitally connected world, your business life might.
This makes multilingualism a very valuable skill. For instance, 722 different languages are spoken in Indonesia, 445 in India and more than 200 in Australia.2 In some areas, children may speak one language at home and be educated in another.
This language acquisition is not only valuable for communication, however — it offers health benefits as well.
How Being Bilingual May Benefit Your Brain
Language is a challenging task for your brain, one that demands even more resources if you’re bilingual.
While it was once thought that children growing up with two or more languages may be at a disadvantage, it turns out this mental workout has benefits and may lead your brain to process information more efficiently, even into old age.
For starters, bilingual brains have more grey matter,3 which includes neurons that function in cognition and higher-order cognitive processes. Further, in comparison to monolinguals, bilinguals enjoy:4
Enhanced cognitive control abilities More mental flexibility Improved handling of tasks involving switching, inhibition and conflict monitoring
These benefits extend to all ages, from children to older adults. Bilingual children appear to have advantages in visuospatial and verbal working memory compared to monolingual children.5
In the elderly population, being bilingual may offer even more advantages. Research suggests bilingual older adults have greater cognitive reserve, a “protective mechanism that increases the brain’s ability to cope with pathology.”6
This may be one reason why bilinguals also have delayed onset of cognitive decline (by up to 4.5 years) compared to monolinguals, even for dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.7 In other words, being bilingual appears to help ward off cognitive decline. According to a study published in Neurology:8
” [L]ifelong bilingualism confers protection against the onset of AD [Alzheimer’s disease]. The effect does not appear to be attributable to such possible confounding factors as education, occupational status, or immigration.
Bilingualism thus appears to contribute to cognitive reserve, which acts to compensate for the effects of accumulated neuropathology.”
Being Bilingual May Alter Neurological Structures in Your Brain
Bilingual brains show differences from monolingual brains in terms of neuronal activation as well as in their actual structure. There are differences within bilinguals as well, which may be due to the different experiences of the individuals.
For instance, people