“The effect it has is, I believe, is on the attention system,” Bialystok says. “This is what cognition is, knowing what you need to attend to, and blocking out the rest.”
Bialystok believes the experience of using two languages effectively reorganizes your brain.
“So that means the more experience with bilingualism leads to greater changes. The longer you’re bilingual, the more the changes. The earlier you start being bilingual, the more the changes. The more intense your bilingual experience is on a daily basis, the more the changes.”
“When you’re bilingual,” Gollan explains, “you can’t turn one language off, so you’re constantly having to face choices that monolingual speakers don’t have to make. So in addition, you have to ‘work hard’ to be bilingual.”
People who are highly educated, or people who have very demanding jobs, might have similar benefits with later onset of Alzheimer’s disease. They still get the disease, but all that hard work their brains did over the years makes it more resilient, for longer.
Use it or Lose it
Research is ongoing when it comes to bilingualism and the brain, and more benefits could still be found.
But in the meantime, what’s an older person to do? Is it too late to reap the benefits of learning a second language?