During a presentation this past weekend at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, DC, Judith Kroll, a psychologist at Penn State who studies bilingualism, described how speaking both English and Spanish "changes the architecture of your brain," and that being bilingual could literally making your brain stronger.
Kroll, Wired's Lizzie Wade explains, thinks that being bilingual might benefit people in one important mental capacity: the "executive function" aspect of the brain's processes, or "the ability to filter out unnecessary information and make decisions." If true (some dispute this assertion), it can be assumed a bilingual brain also means a more nimble and logical one.
The executive function isn't the only part of the brain capable of being manipulated by the ability to speak two languages, Wade writes: "When I speak Spanish, it’s not an effortless cognitive switch. My brain needs to actively choose Spanish every time I say a word or construct a sentence."
This mental back and forth between Spanish or English means, while learning a second language, one's ability to speak their native language may be negatively affected, at least in the short term. "Spanish is always there in my brain, forcing me to do a little extra work to find the English words, even though I’ve known them far longer than their Spanish equivalents," Wade says. Ultimately, though, it can be like "weightlifting for your brain."
And one last thing: Kroll is quick to point out that though folks may have once believed mixing together Spanish and English words in the same sentence was a sign of a "pathological" disease, this is certainly not the case. “It’s actually a normal and typical part of bilingual experience," Kroll said.
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.