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Home > News > Report

Knowing more languages makes brains sharper

September 19, 2007 20:42 IST
Last Updated: September 19, 2007 20:45 IST

Polyglots can take heart. If a study is to be believed, being fluent in two languages may help keep the brain sharper for longer.

A BBC report citing the journal of Psychology and Ageing says those who are fluent in two languages rather than just one are sharper mentally.

Interestingly, the tests were carried out among a group of Indians, who were fluent in both English and Tamil, and Canadians who spoke only English. A total of 104 persons between the ages of 30 and 88 was interviewed.

Being a polyglot, said the report, may protect against mental decline in old age as well.

Half of the volunteers came from Canada [Images] and spoke English. The other half came from India and was fluent in both English and Tamil. The volunteers had similar backgrounds in the sense that they were all educated to degree level and were all middle class.

The researchers find that the people who were fluent in English and Tamil responded faster than those who were fluent in just English. This applied to all age groups.

Dr Ellen Bialystok and colleagues at York University in Canada assessed the cognitive skills of all those involved in the study using various tests. They tested their vocabulary skills, their non-verbal reasoning ability and their reaction time.

The study, the BBC reports, also found that the bilingual volunteers were much less likely to suffer from the mental decline associated with old age.

The UK's Alzheimer's Society, the report said, welcomed the study.
"These findings, that early development of second language may improve a specific aspect of cognitive function in later life, are very interesting," the report said quoting Professor Clive Ballard, its director of research.

"It is a possibility that the acquisition of a second language in early childhood may influence the process of the development of neuronal circuits. However, the results of this particular study need to be interpreted cautiously as they were comparing groups of individual of different nationalities, educated in different systems," it said.