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The benefits of bilingualism

french-immersion

Bilingualism has already been associated with delayed  dementia, better memory, and other benefits. In a recent study, researchers found that bilinguals were better able to answer difficult questions when there was distracting noise around them. Interestingly, there was almost no difference between unilinguals and ‘bilinguals’ who only possessed a passable understanding of the other language, infrequently used. The more frequently a person switches between languages, the bigger the better a person was able to focus their mind on the task and answer questions.

Although specific causation is always difficult to determine, some researchers posit that bilinguals tend to be better at focusing because they have more practice doing it. For a bilingual, each word spoken or heard has at least two labels (one in each language)  and one label (i.e. language) must be suppressed in favour of the other. By having to constantly concentrate and choose the most meaningful labels, bilinguals have more practice and seem to be better at focusing their minds when distractions abound. As the number of distractions continue to grow, the ability to focus the mind will become increasingly important.

Here is an interesting article by The Economist that succinctly summarizes the research on the benefits of bilingualism.

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