The ability to speak two languages is considered a coveted social and professional advantage in an increasingly globalized society. Less frequently discussed, however, are the cognitive benefits that bilingualism offers to speakers.
According to the University of California, Riverside’s Judith Kroll, distinguished professor of psychology and director of UCR’s Bilingualism, Mind, and Brain Lab, bilingualism’s consequences are evident over the entire life span. People who can speak more than one language develop “mental flexibility” that increases openness to new learning, while code-switching, the practice of alternating between multiple languages in a single conversation, becomes an act of cognitive athleticism.
“Some of the most dramatic consequences are seen in older adults,” Kroll said. “Studies show that while bilingualism doesn’t protect people against dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it does seem to protect them against the onset of the symptoms. On average, the age at which bilingual people present symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is roughly four to five years later than monolinguals.”