Bilingualism benefits brain
The Washington Post
Jun. 17, 2004 07:16 PM
Bilingual speakers are better able to deal with distractions than those who
speak only a single language, and that may help offset age-related declines in
mental performance, researchers say.
In studies conducted in Canada, India and Hong Kong, psychologists determined
that individuals who spoke two languages with equal proficiency and used both
equally did better than monolingual volunteers on tests that measured how
quickly they could perform while distracted.
"The bilingual advantage was greater for older participants," the researchers
wrote in the journal Psychology and Aging, adding that "bilingualism appears to
offset age-related losses" in certain mental processes.
Researchers used the Simon task, a test used to measure mental abilities that
are known to decline with age. Test takers saw a red or a blue square flash on a
computer screen and were told to depress one or the other of the two "shift"
keys depending on which color appeared. As previous research has found,
performance slowed when the colored squares moved from their original positions.
Three experiments showed that bilingual speakers of Cantonese and English, Tamil
and English or French and English consistently outperformed English-only
speakers, said the researchers at York University and the Rotman Research
Institute in Toronto, and Dalhousie University in Halifax,Nova Scotia.
The team, led by Ellen Bialystok at York University, hypothesized that the
ability to hold two languages in the mind at the same time, without allowing
words and grammar from one to slip into the other, might account for the greater
control needed to perform well on the Simon task. An alternate hypothesis is
that bilinguals have superior working memories for storing and processing