Bilingualism and Brain Plasticity
I recently returned from a 3 week trip to the Middle East. In preparation, I took Arabic lessons for about 6 months, in hopes that it might aid my communication on my trip. I am bilingual in English and Spanish, and was surprised to find that learning Arabic was a great deal more challenging than I had imagined- but on my trip, I delighted in having some very brief exchanges in Arabic and being able to read signs in Arabic script (albeit slowly and with great effort). Now that I’ve returned with a slight taste of success, I plan to continue my classes and try to improve my Arabic further.
Here’s some encouraging news: learning a second (or third, or fourth) language is fun and can open doors to communication and culture–and it’s also GREAT for your brain. At any age, learning a new language is a wonderfully rich and interesting way to keep your brain fit and healthy. There have been several studies showing that the brains of children and adults benefit significantly from learning more than one language. A Canadian study showed that bilingual people staved off age-related dementia by an average of 4 years as compared to their monolingual counterparts. A Tel Aviv study found that among 75-95 year olds, the more languages a person knew, the sharper their cognition. For more on the brain benefits of being bilingual- I recommend this terrific overview article from the Society for Neuroscience.