Having an easier time traveling, watching movies without subtitles, being able to communicate with people from different cultures and places, having a better curriculum… all of that is well known as advantages of being bilingual. However, recent researchers have found out benefits to the brain that go far beyond that. Scientists have come to the conclusion that the brain of a bilingual or multilingual person actually works and looks different than the brain of a monolingual one. Studies that show the great benefits of being bilingual have changed completely the way bilingualism, especially in childhood, is seen.
Although it is known that all types of bilingual people can become fluent, the time and the way in which the language acquisition is given changes the effect it has on the brain. This is explained by the differences in the brain’s both hemispheres most dominant abilities. It is proved by science that the brain’s left side is more dominant in analytical and logical processes, while the right side of the brain is responsible for the emotional and social behaviors. This lateralization is developed gradually with age, and the language acquisition process requires the use of all of these functions. Putting all of this information together, the Critical Period Hypothesis was developed:
According to this theory, children learn languages more easily because of the plasticity of their developing brains, which lets them use both hemispheres in language acquisition, while in most adults, their language acquisition is lateralized to one hemisphere, usually the left. If this is true, learning a language in childhood may give more of a realistic grasp of its social and emotional contexts. Conversely, recent research showed that people who learned a second language in adulthood exhibit less emotional bias and a more rational approach when confronting problems in their second language than in their native one.
Here’s a summary of what bilingual brains do differently according to the study:
- They show a higher density of the gray matter that contains most of the brain’s neurons and synapses.
- They show more activity in certain regions when engaging a second language.
- The high workout a bilingual brain receives throughout its life can also help delay the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia by as much as 5 years.
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