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Studies Find Bilingual Brains Are Sharper

Studies Find bilingual brains are sharperIt’s no secret my passion is to convince everyone I can that exposing your child to a second language is one of the most amazing and beneficial gifts you could ever give him. The benefits of a bi- and multilingual brain keep receiving praises on national news as more and more scientific research keeps coming out exalting the pros — and practically no cons! — of growing up being able to effortlessly switch your brain from one language to another.

One such research was published this week on The Journal of Neuroscience that focused on the lasting benefits of raising bilingual kids by focusing on older adults. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, concluded that bilingual adults’ brains are much sharper and quicker when responding to multiple stimuli. I want to think this is why I’m a master multi-tasker myself!

Basically, the researchers put together a group of 30 adults with a median age of 63; half of the group were monolinguals and the other half had been bilinguals from the age of 10 or younger. Neurologist Brian Gold, Ph.D led the study and explained to NBC News the process the volunteers had to go through:

“[The volunteers] … had to decide if a shape was a circle or a square, making their choice by pressing a button. Then they had to decide if a shape was red or blue. Finally, they had to rapidly switch between these two tasks. Bilingual people showed faster reaction times during the task switching phase than did monolingual people.”

They then conducted the same experiment with younger volunteers, both bi-and monolinguals, and used neuro-imaging to get “pictures” of the brain to see where this reflexive action happened. It showed that this new group had about the same reaction time among themselves, but what’s interesting is that the older bilinguals had close to the same reaction times as the younger group and much significantly faster ones than their monolingual peers.

They did conclude that the brain shrinks with age, no matter what, but that brains of bilinguals do remain more sharp and agile when it comes to reacting to situations, circumstances and immediate decision-making. They believe that it’s due to the mental exercise that we bilinguals effortlessly and unconsciously do all the time of switching back and forth between languages. That activity keeps the brain sort of on a permanent workout and gives lasting benefits.

Now, don’t you want to give your kid that advantage? Many other studies have concluded that the sooner a child starts learning a second language, the better. And it’s not just about sitting them in front of the TV with a language-learning video or the occasional Chinese or Spanish class over the weekends, they must receive constant exposure in order for them to become fluent and gain the maximum cognitive and social benefits.

If you already speak a second language, please, please don’t hesitate talking to your child in that language consistently. It’s okay if your partner doesn’t speak it, you can do it together and your child will not be confused.

If you don’t speak a second language, but want to make sure your child does, then consider finding a daycare, preschool and/or elementary school in your area that offers a dual language immersion program. It can be in any language you choose, but Spanish is probably the one that’s the most accessible right now, and since it’s the second most spoken language in the world, the doors to the world are theirs to open.

If you (or others you know!) need even more encouragement on your bilingual journey, here are some quotes to inspire:

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  • Language is culture 1 of 7
    Language is culture
    The decision to raise bilingual kids can come from research and knowledge, or just from the heart. For those of us that are bicultural and bilingual, we have a need for our child to understand her heritage and have a deep connection with family without language being a barrier.
  • One nation, many languages 2 of 7
    One nation, many languages
    Most developed countries value their children learning a second language as early as possible. The advantages to the individual multiply to the collective.
  • Spanish and English Rule 3 of 7
    Spanish and English Rule
    The second most-spoken language in the world is Spanish and the third is English. If you can speak both, you can speak to most of the people in the world. How cool is that?
  • Bilingual is better … and pays more! 4 of 7
    Bilingual is better ... and pays more!
    This one isn't only about me, but I can unequivocally affirm that the fact that I can speak and write Spanish and English fluently has given me a direct advantage in my career choices.

    In fact, bilinguals can earn up to 20% more in the U.S.!
  • Consistency is key 5 of 7
    Consistency is key
    Any child can learn words in a second language, but for them to become proficient bilinguals they need constant exposure to a second language. Visit SpanglishBaby.com for ideas and a community of parents raising bilingual kids.
  • Bilingual parenting revolution 6 of 7
    Bilingual parenting revolution
    It all starts with the parents. It's up to you to make the decision to expose your child to a second language. You must believe in your own reasons, whatever those may be, that you really want this for your kid.

    This is truly one gift that we can give them that no one can ever take away. They will one day thank you proficiently for it -- in two languages!
  • The bilingual heart 7 of 7
    The bilingual heart
    Learning that everything around you has more than one word or meaning helps children grow more culturally aware and flexible at adapting to new situations. Yet one more advantage of bilingualism!

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Buy the book I co-authored, Bilingual is Better: Two Latina Moms on How the Bilingual Parenting Revolution is Changing the Face of America.

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