60-Second Science

Being Multilingual Helps with Multitasking

At a session of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, researchers discussed some of the benefits of being multilingual, such as heightened focus and better multitasking. Cynthia Graber reports

[Hello. (in Spanish)] [My name is Cynthia. (in French)]

According to a variety of studies my languages may be providing mental benefits beyond the ability to chat with locals when I travel. Judith Kroll, from Penn State University, discussed findings from a number of her lab’s papers on February 18th at a session of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Common thought, she explained, holds that bilingual children are hindered in their cognitive development. But it turns out that bilingual children and adults perform better when it comes to multitasking and focusing on important information. That’s because the other languages are always present in the background. So the multilingual is always making choices in selecting the appropriate language for a given situation. In the lab’s most recent paper, that scenario held true for deaf students who use American Sign Language and written English.

Ellen Bialystok, from Toronto’s York University, explained that bilingual children are better at prioritizing tasks than monolinguals. She also found that multilingualism may help protect against age-related mental decline, such as Alzheimers and dementia.

So maybe [the fact that I speak a few languages (in Hebrew)] helps me pop between different topics for this podcast.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast,]

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