New research indicates that speaking two or more languages helps the
cognitive function of the brain from declining and helps the brain to
age slowly. The research published in Annals
of Neurology, a journal of the American Neurological Association and Child
Neurology Society throws new light on this subject. This would mean that most
Indians who speak more than one language possibly have a slow aging
With more than 120 languages
spoken in India, most individuals who have attended even a certain level of
schooling and education speak two or more than two languages - one, their
mother tongue and two, Hindi, English, or the native language of the area they
live in. For example, a person with a Bengali father and a Malayalee mother
living in Delhi will know at least three languages - Bengali, Malayalam, and
Hindi / English.
So does that mean that they will have a slow aging brain
? Possibly, says the new
Being bilingual can make you smarter. It has a profound effect on the
cognitive function of the brain by not only improving cognitive skills not
related to language but also delaying dementia
as you grow old. This was already proved
by earlier research.
'To maintain the relative balance between two
languages, the bilingual brain relies on executive functions, a regulatory
system of general cognitive abilities that includes processes such as attention
and inhibition. Because both of a bilingual person's language systems are
always active and competing, that person uses these control mechanisms every
time she or he speaks or listens. This constant practice strengthens the
control mechanisms and changes the associated brain regions,' explains Viorica Marian in her article published in the
. She is chair
of the department of communication sciences and disorders at Northwestern
University and associate professor of communication sciences and disorders,
psychology, and cognitive science.
But do people improve their cognitive functions through learning new
languages or those with better baseline cognitive functions are more likely to
become bilingual? That's the question Dr. Thomas Bak from the Centre for
Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh and
his colleagues set out to investigate in the new research.
Their findings revealed that those who spoke two or more languages had
significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would be expected
from their baseline. The strongest effects were seen in general intelligence
irrespective of whether the second language was learnt early or late.
'These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of
people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study
shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging
brain,' says Dr. Bak.
'The epidemiological study by Dr. Bak and colleagues provides an
important first step in understanding the impact of learning a second language
and the aging brain. This research paves the way for future causal studies of
bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention,' commented Dr. Alvaro
Pascual-Leone, an Associate Editor for Annals of Neurology and Professor of
Medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who reviewed the
In the Indian context, Suvaran Alladi, from the Department of
Neurology, Nizam's Institutes of Medical Sciences, Hyderabad, and her
colleagues (including Dr. Bak), reviewed case records of 648 patients with
dementia (391 of them bilingual) in Hyderabad and found that bilingual patients
developed dementia 4.5 years later than their monolingual counterparts. The study
published in the journal Neurology
also found that there were no additional benefits in people speaking more than
2 languages and that the delay in cognitive decline was independent of factors
such as education, gender, occupation, and urban vs rural dwelling.
So, thanks to amazing linguistic diversity of India, people in India
could be at an advantage as far as delayed cognitive decline is concerned.