CogniFit's Science blog: Hello, Comment Ça Va? Bilingualism As A Cognition Enabler

Hello, Comment Ça Va? Bilingualism As A Cognition Enabler

Having a resumé featuring the knowledge of several languages, while not being instrumental, can be influential in getting chosen for a position. When travelling, understanding several languages is an enabler for a better experience.

But there’s a lot more to the knowledge of languages, and in concrete to the bilingualism, that goes over the very practical work or holiday’s advantages. More and more schools are featuring bilingual programs, and there seems to exist as well, although not yet fully explained explained by the brain research, an influence of bilingualism in the cognitive development of the children.

So why are schools offering bilingual programs, or complete curriculums in a foreign language? For one it does seem to attract the parents, who see in this an opportunity to provide something incremental for their kids. It does offer as well better chances of later on being accepted to college. But the common belief, increasingly supported by neuroscience research, that the perfect usage of more than one language plays almost like mental exercise, is perhaps the most structural reason for these choices.

Although this mechanism hasn’t yet been fully explained, the main insight into this is that the ability to quickly switch from a language to another has an impact on the focus and decision-making which enables a better executive function of the brain. These advantages may be seen in kids as young as 3 years old, and they will represent a structural development of the cognition.

At the end it all comes to the concept of brain plasticity and the creation of a cognitive reserve. It may not seem so, but a bilingual kid needs to process a lot more information and make selective choices every time. It is not uncommon that these kids will fully select the people with whom they will speak language A and the people with whom they will speak language B. There is no possible mixing in this clear separation.

There is also research although not yet fully validated on the impact of bilingualism on several cognitive issues, such as attention disorders for example. In this field, the attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the one that offers the biggest learning potential, as the executive skills which can be improved by being bilingual are the same.

Not everything is an advantage though. The more languages someone will speak, the smaller the vocabulary of each one will be. This is essentially visible in the kids, the gap diminishes as they will grow.

To conclude, it seems clear that there are cognitive advantages of bilingualism further to the practical effect of speaking more than one language, which raises the question / opportunity to make it mandatory. Several countries are already more advanced in this field and have introduced the learning of English as mandatory for kids as of the age of 3. The effects of these choices will be seen in the future.