Health news abounds with ideas about how to boost intelligence, have a better memory and promote clear thinking. Some evidence suggests that diet plays a big role in all of this, while other sources suggest that exercise, supplements and de-stressing are key.
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Here’s a recent suggestion from researchers in the U.S.: become (or stay) fluent in two languages. The research team looked at the way bilingualism affects the brain and found some compelling evidence.
Speaking two languages causes functional and structural changes in the cortical regions of the brain dedicated to language processing and executive function. Executive function simply means the cognitive processes that regulate your ability to organize thoughts and activities, prioritize tasks, manage time efficiently, and make decisions.
According to the researchers, the brains of bilingual people process language differently from those who speak only one language.Â The research team looked at both similarities and differences in behavioral and neural responses between bilinguals and monolinguals. Results show that behaviorally, in English, bilinguals and monolinguals had the same speed and accuracy. However, bilinguals had a different pattern of performance in their second language.
MRI analyses revealed that both monolinguals (in one language) and bilinguals (in each language) showed increases in activation in classic language areas of the brain. However, an important difference was that bilinguals had a significantly greater increase in certain signal pathways when processing English than the English monolinguals.
Whatever the technical details of the study, the basic message is: bilingualism is a great workout for the mind. Speaking and thinking in two different languages helps to keep your brain agile and functioning at a more complex level. The best news is…it’s never too late to start learning a new language.