Updated: 9:50 a.m. PT June 14,
WASHINGTON - Two
languages are better than one when it comes to keeping the brain
young, Canadian researchers reported Monday.
Older adults who grew up
bilingual had quicker minds when tested than people who spoke only
one language, the researchers found. They showed less of the natural
decline associated with aging.
The tests of people who
grew up speaking English and either Tamil or French suggested that
having to juggle two languages keeps the brain elastic and may help
prevent some of the mental slowing caused by age, the researchers
Writing in the journal
Psychology and Aging, Ellen Bialystok of York University in Canada
and colleagues said they tested 104 monolingual and bilingual
middle-aged adults aged 30 to 59 and 50 older adults aged 60 to 88.
Faster on tests
They used a test called the Simon Task, which measures reaction
time for cognitive tasks, such as recognizing on which part of a
computer screen a colored square appears.
Both younger and older
bilinguals were faster on the test, Bialystok reported.
"We compared groups of
people who, as far as we could tell, are exactly the same,"
Bialystok said in a telephone interview.
"They have all had the
same amount of education. They all scored exactly the same on
cognitive tests. They all perform the same on memory tests. And they
also score the same on tests in English vocabulary."
The difference was that
half the people grew up with either French or Tamil spoken at home
and English outside. They all spoke both languages every day from
Changes in brain
People who were proficient in a second language acquired in school
were not included in the study to keep the effects clear.
"It's not a facility.
It's not a talent," Bialystok said. Rather it was a case of being
forced from a young age to function in two languages.
Bialystok said her
earlier study with children suggested these circumstances force a
change in the way the brain processes information.
"In the monolingual
group the differences between the younger adults and the older
adults were in line with (the decline seen) in previous research,"
"In the older bilingual
they slowed down significantly less, dramatically less."
Bialystok has not tested
people who acquired languages later in life but believes learning
new languages can only be good for the brain.
"Language is always good --
more language is always better," she said.