We know life-long bilingualism can delay the onset of dementia by as much as five years. Now, new studies show two big advantages to speaking multiple languages: it preserves memory and helps with focus.
The younger generation recognizes it pays to speak many languages.
“As I started, it was pretty difficult,” said Bill Ngatcha. “I couldn’t get pronunciation of some words."
The 5th grader moved to Irving just over a year ago from Cameroon. His first language is French.
“I use my French to help me with the Spanish,” said Bill.
While strengthening his English, the 10-year-old is also learning Spanish.
“In this country, I think being able to speak both English and Spanish is a big plus,” said Grizelle Larriviel, a dual-language teacher at Irving ISD’s Brandenburg Elementary.
“It's an automatic blend of the two in my brain,” explained Larriviel, of switching between languages. She is also trilingual. “There's no thinking one language or the other, they're both there."
An Italian study shows people who speak two or more languages are better positioned to withstand damage from Alzheimer’s Disease if it should appear later in life. Their brains will cope with degeneration and loss of neurons by finding alternative ways to function.
“It definitely can be beneficial in your older adulthood,” said Susan McKinney, a certified dementia practitioner at Lifetime Wellness.
McKinney works with the elderly population at The Villages at MacArthur in Irving, which offer memory care services to seniors.
Senior citizens who have been bilingual for years have a leg up when it comes to focus. Their brains seem to function more efficiently than people who only speak one language. A Canadian study shows that boils down to the bilingual brain able to select relevant information – ignoring other distractions.
“I understand the teacher really well, and there's just some difficult words that I can't understand,” said Ngatcha, who at age 10 already understands that speaking three languages will help him better establish connections to people and the world around him.
As a hopeful teacher, he was happy to learn that what he’s doing now is feeding his brain for the future.
“At first it's difficult, but as you learn it gets easier and easier,” said Ngatcha.