How Bilingualism Will Benefit Your Child's Brain for Life

Buenas Noticias! Studies Find Bilingual Brains Are SharperBuenas Noticias! 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.

Related: Why raising a bilingual child is easier than you think

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.

- By Ana Flores

For 7 more benefits of raising a bilingual child, visit Babble!

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Ana L. Flores is co-founder of SpanglishBaby, the blog and online community for parents raising bilingual and bicultural kids. She is also the co-author of the book, Bilingual is Better: Two Latina Moms on How the Bilingual Parenting Revolution is Changing the Face of America.

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