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Science Says Bilinguals Are Smarter

Science Says Bilinguals Are Smarter

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”- Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher

Did you know that 56% of all Europeans are bilingual, while Americans and British are at the bottom of the league with only about 20%? Actually, Bill Gates feels “pretty stupid” because he is monolingual, but that certainly did not prevent him from becoming a billionaire!

Numbers and anecdotes aside, being bilingual makes you smarter, according to many research studies. Basically, your brain is more active and your cognitive skills improve as you learn new languages. As an added bonus, you may actually be able to delay the onset of dementia in old age. Here are the main points from the most important studies on the advantages of being bilingual.

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Bilinguals are sharper thinkers

Samuel Beckett, the great Irish playwright, is a superb example. Although a native English speaker, he decided to write all his first drafts in French, as he was bilingual. He then translated them back into English. He explained that this forced him out of his usual, predictable writing style habits. Using the second language forced him to be much more critical and aware of what he was writing.

Researchers at the University of Chicago wondered if Beckett was an exceptional case or if bilinguals really are sharper thinkers. Their research showed that bilinguals were indeed less biased in making their decisions and were sharper when having to make choices as to style and selection of vocabulary. They were, in a way, forced to think outside the box. They were also better at making more rational decisions.

Bilinguals have better working memory

Ellen Bialystok is a researcher at York University, Toronto. She and her colleagues set out to show that bilinguals have certain advantages in mental processing. They found that bilinguals are better at switching their attention when multi-tasking and are also better at paying attention in general. It did not matter whether the tasks were connected to language or not.

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This type of mental processing is known as executive control. This control plays a vital part in childhood academic achievement which in turn benefits overall health and well-being. The researchers also noticed that bilinguals are better at sifting out irrelevant information since they frequently have to deal with interference from other languages.

Bialystok conducted another study which showed that this great advantage extended well into old age and was a factor in helping to stave off dementia. The faster reaction and better memory of the elderly participants was a marked feature of the bilinguals in the study.

“We have even found that bilinguals with Alzheimer’s disease maintain surprisingly good ability to access names in a non-dominant language.” – Tamar Gollan, University of California, San Diego

Bilinguals have more gray matter

As we know, the more gray matter we have in our brains the better, as it helps us process information we receive, especially for intellectual activity. Researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC also found that bilinguals (Spanish/English) had more gray matter in their brains than those who were using English/ ASL (American Sign Language).

“Unlike the findings for the Spanish-English bilinguals, we found no evidence for greater gray matter in the ASL-English bilinguals.” – Dr. Olumide Olulade, lead author of the above study.

The management of two spoken languages was regarded by researchers as being a key factor in the growth of gray matter. It is generally accepted that our brains adapt as a result of new experiences.

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They also observed that London taxi drivers have more gray matter too, although that has more to do with their spatial navigation skills rather than knowing two or more languages.

Are you ready to start learning another language?

Most of the research studies indicate that you do not have to be bilingual from childhood. Even learning a second language in later life can give you many of the advantages cited above. It is time to start talking to the world.

“We seem to be on a constant quest to keep America a country of citizens who can only talk to one another.” – Kari Martindale

Featured photo credit: One brain, two minds/ Gwydion M.Williams via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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