Studies conducted by Ellen Bialystock at York University in Toronto revealed that bilingual speakers perform better on many cognitive tasks. The reason, Bialystock suggests, is that people who speak two languages engage their brain’s executive control function every time they speak or hear either language. Our executive control system is what helps our brain focus on what’s important and filter out what is not. In bilinguals, the executive control system is what allows them to distinguish between the two languages and keep them separate. Bialystock’s research, along with earlier research by Dr. Yakov Stern, also showed that bilingual older adults who had dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease displayed symptoms four to five years later than their monolingual counterparts. This delay in symptoms is due to the strengthening of cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve is our brain’s overall ability to withstand disease and decline. It is protection or a buffer that is created by active engagement in stimulating intellectual, social and physical activities (Stern, 2002).
So, if you don’t already speak two languages, is it too late? Learning a new language is one of the most optimal activities for exercising the brain and building your cognitive reserve. Learning a new language works the left hemisphere of the brain, however, speaking and communicating in that language works both hemispheres. So if you want to try one of the number one workouts for your brain, launch yourself into a new language. If you aren’t ready to invest in a class or an expensive software program, try Living Language’s Ultimate Kit. It’s a much less expensive way to see if you are willing to commit time to practicing. If you are going on a trip overseas this summer, now is a great time to start learning to converse. The language CDs are great for downloading on your iPod.
Language Training for Kids
It’s said that the easiest time to learn a language is in infancy and childhood. Research has shown that having children speak two languages can be beneficial to their cognitive development. Studies by Janet Werker with bilingual infants showed that they have stronger attention and focus, and are more perceptive to other languages, even the ones they don’t know. Pimsleur’s Little Pim language kits are a great way to start your child’s language learning. Recommended for infants and children up to 5 years old, these cute little language kits include, language CDs, music and flash cards.