Everyone from Palo Alto helicopter parents to (probably) you assumes that it’s a good idea for kids to learn a second language. But while you’ve been daydreaming about how Junior’s mastery of Cantonese might positively influence your retirement fund, neuroscientists have been busy figuring out exactly why this is.
Turns out, when the brain shifts back and forth between 2 different sets of vocabulary and rules of grammar, it really tones up the superior frontal gyrus and anterior cingulate (areas of the brain used in decision making — but you knew that already). Viorica Maria, a professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Northwestern University at Northwestern, explains why in this about-as-dry-as-you’d-expect podcast from the National Institute of Health. A bilingual brain is constantly selecting correct language and suppressing incorrect language and that changes the blood oxygenation level in the part of the brain performing the task. By recording these blood flow levels on an MRI, researchers saw more activation in the brain areas that are known to be involved in executive control. This means bilingual kids are better at focusing on relevant information; this does not mean they’re destined for the corner office.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M084SkP1i8 expand=1]
Because your kid’s brain is especially malleable at a young age — and because the skills your kid’s brain picks up from being bilingual translate into other aspects of life — your little bilingual brainiac will be better able to ignore background distractions and focus on her afterschool internet startup generating insanely secure passwords like this sixth grader. Oh, and bilingualism can postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 5 years. So do yourself and your kid a favor and take a good long trip to someplace where they don’t speak English. For, like, 3 years.