Author Archives: BRL

Sorting out what happens in the aging brains of bilinguals

In our last posts we have shown the advantages of being bilingual in children. However, what happens to bilinguals’ brain when they age? Several studies have claimed that bilingualism increases resilience to losing brain capacity. Recently, Perani and her colleagues carried out an experiment in which they compared patients with Alzheimer’s, both monolingual and bilingual.

The results revealed that bilinguals were better at ‘verbal short-term memory and long-term memory’. In addition, monolinguals had more advanced signs of disease. On the other hand, bilinguals were around five years older. In any case, other experts like Duñabeitia claim that more longitudinal studies are needed in order to get clearer conclusions.

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Bilingual Brains Have Better Attention and Focus

In addition to the several advantages of bilingualism mentioned in this blog, a recent study has found that bilinguals have better attention and focus.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham recruited 99 participants from which 48 were English-Chinese bilinguals while the other 51 were English monolingual speakers. Participants carried out 3 different tasks: the Simon task, the Spatial Stroop task and the Flanker task. These tasks consisted on indicating the direction or the color  of arrows and squares while ignoring extra information. Both groups scored similarly. However, the monolingual speakers had slower responses than bilinguals.

Researchers concluded that bilinguals are better at focusing because the response time of bilinguals was faster than monolinguals’. According to the researchers, this could be due to the fact that “the lifetime task of switching between languages appears to enhance the ability to maintain attention.”

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Bilinguals have better social skills

Two recent studies have concluded that multilingual exposure improves not only a child’s cognitive skills, but also their social abilities.

The first study, conducted by Dr. Katherine Kinzler’s lab, found that multilingual children were better at communication than children who only spoke one language. In their experiment, multilingual children did not only pay attention to what the adults were saying, but also to the context and the perspective of the interlocutor. Interestingly, they also found that “being raised in an environment in which multiple languages are spoken, rather than being bilingual per se, is the driving factor”.

In the second experiment, which was a follow-up study, they examined the effects of multilingual exposure on children that could hardly speak (14- to 16-month-old babies). In this follow up, led by Professor Liberman, they concluded that children raised in multilingual environments were more aware of the importance of the adult’s perspective for communication, even when that exposure to the second language was minimal.

With these results in hand, these researchers have argued that “Multilingual exposure, it seems, facilitates the basic skills of interpersonal understanding”.

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Being bilingual makes people’s brains more efficient

Apart from the several advantages that being bilingual provides, bilingualism can also be beneficial for our brain! Recent research from the University of Montréal has shown that being bilingual makes the brain more efficient and economical. According to the experiment carried out by Dr Ansaldo, bilinguals select relevant information and ignore information that can distract from a task. She further adds that this advantage can ‘help with the effects of cognitive aging’.

In order to carry out the experiment, they selected a group of bilingual and monolingual senior citizens. Participants had to perform a number of tasks in which they had to focus on visual information while ignoring spatial information. The researchers found that bilinguals had higher connectivity between visual processing areas than monolinguals, which indicates that bilingual brains are more efficient and economical since they use fewer regions of the brain to complete the task.

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How do kids absorb language?

Happy New Year! Here is the first interesting article for 2017.

The University of Victoria, under Alexandra D’Arcy, will be conducting a five-year research to better understand how young kids absorb language. The project will pay especial focus to who the individuals influencing the child’s language development are. ‘I want to know when exactly it is and then how it is that kids start moving changes forward,’ says d’Arcy.

To accomplish this goal, young children (3-4 years old) will be monitored for 5 years. Both children and their parents will be wearing a microphone for 8 hours a day for two weeks, four times a year. This will allow the researcher to see how their language changes over that course of time and how it shifts in relation to their peers and caretakers.


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Why Bilinguals Are Smarter


Scientist have recently found more benefits of being bilingual than just the advantage of being able to communicate with a wider range of people. In a recent study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee (2004) bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins — one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle. The findings showed that the bilinguals were quicker at performing this task. Another similar study in 2009 by Agnes Kovacs of the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, 7-month-old babies exposed to two languages from birth were compared with peers raised with one language. The results were similar to the 2004 study. The babies exposed to a bilingual environment quickly learned to switch their anticipatory gaze in the new direction while the other babies did not.

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Too smart to learn a new language.


Amy Finn, a postdoc at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, together with a group of neurologist and psychologist found evidence that having developed cognitive skills can, indeed, be an obstacle for adults when trying to learn a new language. According to the study, “when learning certain elements of language, adults’ more highly developed cognitive skills actually can get in the way.” Children are better skilled at picking up  subtle nuances of a new language, which gives them the ability to speak a new language like a native speaker within months of living in a foreign country. While adults only focus on learning the vocabulary needed to navigate a shopping market or order food in a restaurant.

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