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The brain benefits of being bilingual?

Technically, the jury’s still out on this one, but Dr. Ellen Bialystok’s (cognitive psychologist) work is very interesting. She has compared cognitive skills in monolingual and bilingual children, as well as a fairly recent study comparing dementia rates in monolingual and bilingual adults in Canada. I wanted to go back to the original source articles, but I wasn’t willing to pay the journal article fees. Sorry. Still, this seems to be what she found:

Bilingual children were ~55% more able to block out misleading information than their monolingual peers.

Bilingual adults tended to show the first signs of dementia at an average age of 75, but monolingual impairment began at an average age 71.

Yes, there are a gazillion unanswered questions here: does it matter what age you become bilingual? Does it matter which languages you speak? Do you have to speak both of those languages all the time or can you have learned a language back in college and not use it now? What about if you speak 3 languages?

Still, there are some interesting findings here worth a deeper look, wouldn’t you say?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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2 Responses to “The brain benefits of being bilingual?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    As a trilingual person I was heartened by your blog about Dr. Ellen Bialystok’s work. I was particularly interested in her discovery that bilingual children were 55% more able to block out misleading information than their monlingual peers. Your use of the word “gazillion” reminds me of a youngster who once asked his geography teacher: “How many is a Brazilian?” My guess is that he was monolingual.

  2. Tony Via says:

    My two much younger cousins are both bilingual (English and Swedish) and I recall a heated family debate about which language should be spoken at home, and if teaching them a second language was hindering their learning English. It’s good to know that research bears out my position that in the long run it can only be of benefit to speak more than one language.

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