If you speak two or more languages, it's not just handy for traveling, it actually makes you smarter.
In the March 18th edition of the New York Times, Yudhijit Battacharjee writes: "There is ample evidence that in a bilingual's brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn't so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles."
It's the same kind of conflict that builds up the left side of the brain in contactees.
There's lots of evidence that bilinguals have better brains--for instance, seem to be more adept than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles. In a set of trials in Italy, 7-month-old babies exposed to two languages from birth did better than their peers who were raised with one language.
The main difference between bilinguals and monolinguals may be a better ability to monitor their environment. Battacharjee quotes researcher Albert Costa as saying, "Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often--you may talk to your father in one language and to your mother in another language. It requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving." In other words, it increases awareness.
Bilingualism even helps stave off Alzheimer's. A recent study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer's disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.
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