The skill helps improve multitasking and prioritizing, and helps ward off early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, experts say.
By Amina Khan
• Bilingual children are more effective at multi-tasking.
• Adults who speak more than one language do a better job prioritizing information in potentially confusing situations.
• Being bilingual helps ward off early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease in the elderly.
These benefits come from having a brain that's constantly juggling two—or even more—languages, said Ellen Bialystok, a psychology professor at York University in Toronto, who spoke at the AAAS annual meeting. For instance, a person who speaks both Hindi and Tamil can't turn Tamil off even if he's speaking to only Hindi users, because the brain is constantly deciding which language is most appropriate for a given situation.
This constant back-and-forth between two linguistic systems means frequent exercise for the brain's so-called executive control functions, located mainly in the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain tasked with focusing one's attention, ignoring distractions, holding multiple pieces of information in mind when trying to solve a problem, and then flipping back and forth between them.