[lg policy] Bilingualism Benefits the Brain at Any Age

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Feb 26 16:09:05 UTC 2015

Bilingualism Benefits the Brain at Any Age
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and actively using a second language, whether done from childhood or later
in life, can not only improve language processing but benefit the brain in
a more general sense. In a study published in January of 2015 entitled *Effects
of Bilingualism on the White Matter Structure of the Brain*, it was found
that active bilinguals (those who regularly use both a first and second
language) had higher fractional anisotropy values (structural differences)
in white matter tracts that are linked to language processing.

It was also found that bilingualism has cognitive benefits beyond just
language processing, specifically in regards to executive functioning,
which corresponds to things like memory, reasoning, task flexibility,
problem solving, and planning. These numerous benefits are accompanied by,
and possibly related to, clearly seen structural changes in the brain, such
as fiber density, axonal diameter, and myelination (the creation of fatty
tissues around the neuron), which all are critical to the proper
functioning of the nervous system. These dynamic effects on white matter
structure result in a sort of cognitive reserve, helping to preserve white
matter integrity in older age.

Although there is currently no direct causal link between enhanced
cognitive functioning and active bilingualism, there is consistent positive
correlation. These findings did not vary across age or length of time
learning a second language, but by the level of dual language immersion
experienced. Overall, the study concludes that actively using two or more
languages every day can change brain structure for the better and produce
lasting effects in cognitive function later in life.

The full study can be read at http://www.pnas.org/content/112/5/1334.full


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