Being bilingual enables to connect with more people and in touch with more cultures. However, bilingualism is known to have cognitive benefits, too. It turns out that being bilingual also alters how your brain works.

A recent study shows that just being exposed to multiple languages can provide the benefits bilingual people enjoy.

The benefits of bilingualism

Years of research found benefits of bilingualism to brain function. This includes:

  • Improved focus and creativity:  Bilinguals are shown to be better in focusing and shifting their attention in contrast to their monolingual peers.Those with bilingual experience are also observed to be more capable of adapting to new rules or situations, making them mentally flexible. This allows them to outperform monolinguals when it comes to problem solving tasks.
  • Ease of picking up new languages: Research shows that bilinguals are better than those who know only one language when it comes to picking up even more languages.The brains of bilinguals are shaped to be more open to the nuances of other  languages, as opposed to monolinguals who tend to get locked to the language they know.
  • Heightened social bonding abilities: It has been observed that bilingual children then to be more open on differing perspectives and viewpoints. They appear to have less likely to have racial biases than monolingual children.This openness to diversity gives bilinguals an edge when it comes to establishing social bonds.
  • Strengthens the brain’s executive system: A portion of the brain’s executive system is observed to grow at a faster pace in bilinguals than in monolinguals. This can be attributed to them having two languages to manage.This allows bilinguals to also improve when it comes to processing information.

Exposure is key

The study from University of California, Irvine shows that you can reap some of the benefits bilinguals enjoy by being exposed to other languages on a regular basis. This is known as ambient linguistic diversity.

In their research, two monolingual, English-speaking  groups were studied: a group regularly exposed to other languages and another group only exposed to English.

Presented with Finnish words and non-Finnish words, the researchers want to determine how good the groups can discern what kind of words belong to the Finnish language.

Neither groups were able to do this, behaviorally speaking. However, when the brain activities of the participants were measured, a difference was revealed.

Those exposed in other languages are shown to exhibit anterior late positivity, a brain wave which is also observed in bilinguals. This means that ambient linguistic diversity does impact the language learning of monolinguals.

This exposure to diverse language contexts allows monolinguals to be more sensitive to sounds in a new language.

“Monolinguals living in linguistically diverse contexts regularly overhear languages they do not understand and may absorb information about those languages in ways that shape their language networks,”  the paper’s abstract details.

Given this, embracing diversity will not only benefit us as a collective whole. Turns out, our brains will also benefit from it.

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