The Reporter wouldn’t think of hiring anyone who doesn’t speak French. There’s no doubt that if you don’t speak the language of the country you’re living in, you’re missing out on a great many things, even if your professional and social life is mainly in English.
Learning the lingo not only helps you get the most out of a country, it gains respect from the locals, makes professional life easier and even boosts brain power.
Living life in more than one language is as good for your mind as practicing several sports is for your body. Bilingualism doesn’t necessarily make you more intelligent but juggling two languages does increase cognitive skills.
So says the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Their recent study showed that multilingualism protects the brain against cognitive decline and improves multitasking skills. Even learning a second language late in life has been shown to slow the decline of some key brain functions. Research by Ellen Bialystok of York University in Canada found that people who speak more than one language are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 4.3 years later and report the onset of symptoms 5.1 years later than monolingual patients. “One of the reasons bilingualism has these powerful mechanisms, including protecting against early symptoms of dementia, is because it’s one way to keep your brain active,” Bialystok says. Even if you’re starting to learn a language at 50 or 60, you’re unlikely to become bilingual, but you are exercising your brain.
Bilingual people are better than monolinguals at shutting out distractions and focusing on what’s important, which is what makes them better at multitasking, claims Amy Weinberg, a professor of linguistics at the University of Maryland.
According to Judith Kroll, director of the centre for language studies at Penn State University, “Bilinguals acquire specific types of expertise that help them attend to critical tasks and ignore irrelevant information.”
Along with bilingualism comes an increased ability to recruit different brain networks to optimise brain performance. It all comes down to making the most of what you have, and the more language skills you have the better it is for your brain. Perfect fluency isn’t the issue, it’s the fact that any attempt at bilingualism will call more brain cells into action.