Does being bilingual help children learn to prioritize information, provide a defense against some effects of Alzheimer's or just provide a great workout for the brain?
All of the above, according to studies discussed Friday at the 2011 American Assn. for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington D.C., where a number of researchers presented on the benefits of being bilingual.
Among the findings: that infants raised in bilingual households can tell unfamiliar foreign languages apart and that bilingual speakers who rapidly switch between languages are better mental multitaskers than their monolingual counterparts.
Bilingual speakers rarely use the wrong language with a monolingual speaker. But knowing (and using) more than one language means that, if the listener knows both languages, speakers can switch between them to most accurately express their thoughts. This mental workout enhances what Pennsylvania State University psychology professor Judith Kroll, who spoke at the conference, called 'cognitive control.'