9 March 2011

The Bilingual Rx

Posted by Kathryn under: Bilingualism and Your Health! .

This post is dedicated to the memory of Richard Brod (1933-2004), who died on this date in 2004 and who was living proof of the best bilingualism has to offer, always.

Richard Brod, Yale Univ., Trumbull Courtyard, June 1966

Richard Brod, Yale University, 1966

In the January post (Languages and Perspectives), we opened up the subject of the effects of being bi- or multi-lingual.  We continue to  encourage you to weigh in on the subject in terms of your experiences and thoughts on the matter, and in the meantime, we’ll share additional relevant information as we come across it.

One focus of additional current interest in bilingualism has to do with brain function and aging.  In his 2010 book Bilingual: Life and Reality (Harvard University Press), François Grosjean cites a study in which 184 patients diagnosed with some form of dementia were examined.  Fifty-one percent of them were bilingual. The members of this sub-group all spoke English as one of their languages and were regular users, at least throughout adult life, of both of their languages.

When the authors of the study compared the age of onset of dementia symptoms of the two groups, they found that “the bilinguals had a mean age of onset 4.1 years later than the monolinguals (at 75.5 years versus 71.4 years).”  The authors attribute this gap in favor of the bilinguals to the “attentional control that bilinguals use to govern their languages”  (such as choosing, suppressing, activating) as being related to “other complex mental activities that appear to protect against dementia.”  They suspect that bilingualism does not affect the existence of pathological factors but rather “enables the brain to better tolerate” them.

“Voilà, Viola!”

2 Comments so far...

Sarah Says:

9 March 2011 at 6:42 pm.

Fabulous! Really liked this post – definitely gives me motivation to get back to Spanish! Thanks for the great info!!

Cecilia Cloughly Says:

9 March 2011 at 7:15 pm.

Richard Brod was a real “Mensch.” He was the FL profession’s “secret weapon.” He strengthened university programs through the Association of of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL) and its summer seminars and relevant Journal. He saw the “total picture” and made intelligent predictions. I, for one, will not forget his wit, kindness, and brilliance.

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