bilingual brains

Bilingual Brains are better at Attention, Memory and Multitasking

Last week we wrote about the positive effects of learning a second language when it comes to preventing mental aging or even delaying the Alzheimer’s disease. In a new and somewhat related study researchers now found even more evidence that speaking a second language is good for your brain.

Dr. Nina Kraus and colleagues at the Northwestern University studied 48 first year high school students, 23 of which were proficient in both Spanish and English and the other 25 only spoke English.

One of the tests aimed to find out the auditory brainstem response on sounds played both in a clean way and then hidden in background noise. In the first part the bilingual students showed a larger response than the monolingual students.

In the second part of the experiment the sound was mixed with background noise. In this case monolingual students had a less intense response than before while bilingual students showed basically the identical response at the auditory brainstem.

A second experiment involved a selective attention test in which the students needed to click a mouse button when a 1, but not a 2, was seen or heard. In this experiment the bilingual students outperformed the monolingual ones, again.

Comparing the two results, the researchers found that bilingualism apparently leads to help improve selective attention by enhancing the auditory brainstem response which ultimately leads to better attention and working memory.

As bilingual brains need to juggle with different linguistic input and sounds all the time, the brain gets better in picking out the relevant parts and ignoring other sounds. This is very helpful when you need to concentrate in a noisy environment which can be in school or at the workplace.

In an earlier study researchers had already found that musicians have a similar advantage when it comes to brainstem response and hence memory, attention and multitasking. In a next step researchers want to study the effect on the brain of learning a second language in the later stages of life and if there are benefits to it.

Bottom line: we need teach children a second language early on.

via National Institute of Health

Picture by Evan89, via Wikimedia Commons