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Thursday, February 21, 2013 | Latest audio lessons → VOA Learning English

For the Brain, the Benefits of Being Bilingual



From VOA Learning English, welcome to Health in Special English! There is more evidence suggesting that being bilingual is good for your brain. A new study found that older adults who have spoken two languages since childhood showed better mental skills than those who speak just one language. Earlier studies showed that the ability to speak 2 languages, or bilingualism, seemed to favor the development of these heightened skills.

The study appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience. Brian Gold was the lead author of the study. He is a neuroscientist at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

Dr. Gold and his team asked people to sort colors and shapes in a series of simple exercises. They used brain imaging to compare how well three groups of people switched among these exercises. The groups were bilingual seniors, monolingual seniors and younger adults. The imaging showed different patterns of activity in the frontal part of the brain, in an area used for processing those tasks.

Dr. Gold says the results suggest that bilingual subjects use their brain more efficiently. Dr. Gold notes that knowing a second language made no difference for the young adults. They did better at the exercises than both groups of older people. But he says the older bilingual adults appear to have built up a surplus from a lifetime of increased mental activity. He says his research confirms an earlier study on bilingualism among patients with Alzheimer's disease.

That study showed that bilingual speakers suffered more brain damage, but were able to think at the same level as patients with less damage. Dr. Gold says he believes the new study confirms that bilingualism can protect brain performance.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Carolyn Presutti.