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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 September 28, 2020

How To Study Effectively: 7 Simple Tips

How To Study Effectively: 7 Simple Tips

The brain is a tangled web of information. We don’t remember single facts, but instead we interlink everything by association. Anytime we experience a new event, our brains tie the sights, smells, sounds and our own impressions together into a new relationship.

Our brain remembers things by repetition, association, visual imagery, and all five senses. By knowing a bit about how the brain works, we can become better learners, absorbing new information faster than ever.

Here are some study tips to help get you started:

1. Use Flashcards

Our brains create engrained memories through repetition. The more times we hear, see, or repeat something to ourselves, the more likely we are to remember it.

Flashcards can help you learn new subjects quickly and efficiently. Flashcards allow you to study anywhere at any time. Their portable nature lends them to quick study sessions on the bus, in traffic, at lunch, or in the doctor’s office. You can always whip out your flashcards for a quick 2 to 3 minute study session.

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To create effective flashcards, you need to put one point on each flashcard. Don’t load up the entire card with information. That’s just overload. Instead, you should dedicate one concept to each card.

One of the best ways to make flashcards is to put 1 question on the front and one answer on the back. This way, you can repeatedly quiz yourself into you have mastered any topic of your choice.

Commit to reading through your flash cards at least 3 times a day and you will be amazed at how quickly you pick up new information.

As Tony Robbins says,

“Repetition is the mother of skill”.

2. Create the Right Environment

Often times, where you study can be just as important as how you study. For an optimum learning environment, you’ll want to find a nice spot that is fairly peaceful. Some people can’t stand a deafening silence, but you certainly don’t want to study near constant distractions.

Find a spot that you can call your own, with plenty of room to spread out your stuff. Go there each time you study and you will find yourself adapting to a productive study schedule. When you study in the same place each time, you become more productive in that spot because you associate it with studying.

3. Use Acronyms to Remember Information

In your quest for knowledge, you may have once heard of an odd term called “mnemonics”. However, even if you haven’t heard of this word, you have certainly heard of its many applications. One of the most popular mnemonic examples is “Every Good Boy Does Fine”. This is an acronym used to help musicians and students to remember the notes on a treble clef stave.

An acronym is simply an abbreviation formed using the intial letters of a word. These types of memory aids can help you to learn large quantities of information in a short period of time.

4. Listen to Music

Research has long shown that certain types of music help you to recall information. Information learned while listening to a particular song can often be remembered simply by “playing” the songs mentally in your head.

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5. Rewrite Your Notes

This can be done by hand or on the computer. However, you should keep in mind that writing by hand can often stimulate more neural activity than when writing on the computer.

Everyone should study their notes at home but often times, simply re-reading them is too passive. Re-reading your notes can cause you to become disengaged and distracted.

To get the most out of your study time, make sure that it is active. Rewriting your notes turns a passive study time into an active and engaging learning tool. You can begin using this technique by buying two notebooks for each of your classes. Dedicate one of the notebooks for making notes during each class. Dedicate the other notebook to rewriting your notes outside of class.

6. Engage Your Emotions

Emotions play a very important part in your memory. Think about it. The last time you went to a party, which people did you remember? The lady who made you laugh, the man who hurt your feelings, and the kid who went screaming through the halls are the ones you will remember. They are the ones who had an emotional impact.

Fortunately, you can use the power of emotion in your own study sessions. Enhance your memory by using your five senses. Don’t just memorize facts. Don’t just see and hear the words in your mind. Create a vivid visual picture of what you are trying to learn.

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For example, if you are trying to learn the many parts of a human cell, begin physically rotating the cell in your minds eye. Imagine what each part might feel like. Begin to take the cell apart piece by piece and then reconstruct it. Paint the human cell with vivid colors. Enlarge the cell in your mind’s eye so that it is now six feet tall and putting on your own personal comedy show. This visual and emotional mind play will help deeply encode information into your memory.

7. Make Associations

One of the best ways to learn new things is to relate what you want to learn with something you already know. This is known as association, and it is the mental glue that drives your brain.

Have you ever listened to a song and been flooded by memories that were connected to it? Have you ever seen an old friend that triggered memories from childhood? This is the power of association.

To maximize our mental powers, we must constantly be looking for ways to relate new information with old ideas and concepts that we are already familiar with.

You can do this with the use of mindmapping. A mind map is used to diagram words, pictures, thoughts, and ideas into a an interconnected web of information. This simple practice will help you to connect everything you learn into a global network of knowledge that can be pulled from at any moment.

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Learn more about mindmapping here: How to Mind Map to Visualize Your Thoughts (With Mind Map Examples)

Featured photo credit: Alissa De Leva via unsplash.com

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