languages are better than one when it comes to keeping the brain young,
Canadian researchers have reported.
Older adults who grew up bilingual had
quicker minds when tested than people who spoke only one language, the
researchers found. They showed less of the natural decline associated with
The tests of people who grew up speaking
English and either Tamil or French suggested that having to juggle two
languages keeps the brain elastic and may help prevent some of the mental
slowing caused by age, the researchers said on Monday.
Writing in the journal Psychology and
Aging, Ellen Bialystok of
and colleagues said they tested 104 monolingual and bilingual
middle-aged adults aged 30 to 59 and 50 older adults aged 60 to 88.
They used a test called the Simon Task,
which measures reaction time for cognitive tasks, such as recognizing on which
part of a computer screen a colored square appears.
Both younger and older bilinguals were
faster on the test,
"We compared groups of people who, as
far as we could tell, are exactly the same,"
said in a telephone interview.
"They have all had the same amount of
education. They all scored exactly the same on cognitive tests. They all
perform the same on memory tests. And they also score the same on tests in
The difference was that half the people
grew up with either French or Tamil spoken at home and English outside. They
all spoke both languages every day from childhood.
People who were proficient in a second
language acquired in school were not included in the study to keep the effects
"It's not a facility. It's not a
Rather it was a case of being forced from a young age to function in two languages.
earlier study with children suggested these circumstances force a change in the
way the brain processes information.
"In the monolingual group the
differences between the younger adults and the older adults were in line with
(the decline seen) in previous research,"
"In the older bilingual they slowed
down significantly less, dramatically less."
tested people who acquired languages later in life but believes learning new
languages can only be good for the brain.
"Language is always good -- more
language is always better," she said.