The human brain is capable of the most remarkable abilities.
It doesn’t just manage the human body, but it also allows us to communicate by processing, interpreting, and understanding language. Human beings use language as the main source of communication, it allows an individual to express her/himself with greater precision. Each country has their own language, and with language comes different accents and dialects. Speaking one language alone is enough for the brain to develop, as that language is being constantly used.
When it comes to speaking two languages, that’s when the brain is strengthened, the individual is more intelligent and is able to acquire knowledge more easily. The use of two languages is described by the phenomenon of bilingualism.The effects of bilingualism are linked to the functional neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to modify its structure and function with experience. This neuroplastic effect leads to changes in personality in which a bilinguist is capable of not just switching languages but switching personalities as well. One can argue that it takes more than being bilingual to change brain activity and function, but most would agree that the benefits of bilingualism outweigh the drawbacks. Advanced technology has shown that bilingualism has improved cognitive control, changed brain activity over time to strengthen its neurons, and protect against age-related diseases. A major recent discovery over the effects of bilingualism is a phenomenon known as “the personality switch,” in which a bilingual is able to switch between two personalities associated with the two languages he/she speaks.
One benefit of bilingualism is cognitive control—the ability of the bilingual to successfully navigate between two languages and sometimes converging these two languages for the benefits of comprehension and production. As reported in the Multilingualism and the Brain journal, these benefits help with abilities such as management and control. Through a series of studies, a group of researchers came to the conclusion that,”bilingualism appears to be associated with more effective cognitive control, particularly with executive control and those executive function (EF) abilities associated with the frontal lobe that are engaged in planning, attending, set-switching, monitoring, and decision making” (Bialystok, 2001; Bialystok, Craik, Klein, & Viswanathan, 2004; Bialystok, Craik, & Luk, 2008).The proficient ability of bilinguals to easily switch between two languages when appropriate without any intrusions or errors, suggests that there is a high level of cognitive control that enables the bilingual to do such actions.
Cognitive differences in performance between monolinguals and bilinguals differ in that bilinguals are not just able to navigate between languages but are able to negotiate potential competition between these two languages. The bilingual brain is equipped with resources that enable the person to manage the competition between the more dominant language and the less dominant language. This proficiency in control is only evident with long-term experiences speaking two languages. Cognitive control is so beneficial especially when it is developed early in an individual’s lifetime. Training the brain to switch between two languages and having the ability to control one’s own brain instead of the brain controlling one’s body is astonishing, and it is something that would help a bilingual get through their education per say, way more easily than would a monolingual.Cognitive control also provides an advantage of speed. A bilingual brain is proven to process information and solve tasks faster than that of the monolingual brain. According to a peer-reviewed journal, communications, and health disorders, published by a group of scholars at Northwestern University, a study has been conducted on the matter of bilingualism and stimulus-stimulus inhibition.
The study consisted of a ” Stroop task,” the task allowed bilingual and monolingual participants to take different tests and examinations. The results of these tests would indicate the speed in which the information reaches the brain neuron and how long it would take for a participant to react. Findings suggest that bilingualism may engage Stroop-type cognitive control mechanisms more than in monolinguals, likely due to increased Stimulus–Stimulus conflict during bilingual language processing. Ultimately, when cognitive control is maintained by a bilingual, he/she has the ability to acquire information faster than a monolingual.
The ability to acquire information faster through training the brain to switch between two languages, also helps an individual get through the process of their education more conveniently. Author Judith F. Karoll in her book Frontier Research topics proves that bilingualism, through long-term experience, plays an important role in improving and strengthening the brain’s neurons for a more efficient activity. She speaks of a study where participants were shown visual stimuli that would require them to respond by pressing one of two buttons. If the stimuli fit under the category of one of the two buttons, they press that button or withhold a response. The young adult bilinguals outperformed the monolinguals, but at some point, the monolinguals still caught up to the bilinguals.
However, when it came to older adults, the bilinguals still outperformed the monolinguals with an outstanding gap in between. The strong association between performance and the increased number of cross-language intrusion errors was evident when in that the increase of lifelong experiences in bilingualism can increase the ability to correlate with fewer intrusions (Kroll 35). The advantages of cognitive control of a bilinguist extend overtime. These advantages are proven to increase through research studies that found a correlation between performance and age; as the individual continues to grow and navigate between two languages, he/she will enhance his/her abilities in comprehension and production. As a bilingual advance in age, their cognitive abilities will advance as they continue to speak those two languages and learn more about controlling their own brain to switch between those languages. The advancement of cognitive abilities in a monolingual, allows them to grow older, smarter, and healthier.
This cognitive correlation between performance and age is later proven to show a relationship between bilingualism and age-related diseases. One cognitive benefit of bilingualism that is evident in society as an individual advance in age is the protection against Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, they have defined the disease as the progression of mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain.
Dr. Daniela Perani, an expert on language as it relates to age speaks of the ” bilingual switch,” she mentioned, “The more often a person swapped between two languages during their lifetime, the more capable their brains became of switching to alternate pathways that maintained thinking skills even as Alzheimer’s damage accumulated” (Perani 15). She performed her own experiment to add reassurance of her conclusion. She and her colleagues closely “examined cognitive control and inhibition by performing brain scans and memory tests on 85 seniors with Alzheimer’s. Among the participants, 45 spoke both German and Italian, while 40 only spoke one language.The bilingual people dramatically outscored monolingual speakers on memory tests, scoring three to eight times higher, on average” (Perani 16).
Perani moves on to mention that “bilingual people achieved these scores even though scans of their brains revealed more signs of cerebral hypometabolism — a characteristic of Alzheimer’s in which the brain becomes less efficient at converting glucose into energy” (Perani 16). They achieved these scores because of the presence of “fewer intrusions in the brain.” Overall, Dr. Perani takes every perspective into account to conclude a more dominant effect of cognitive control: the protection against Alzheimer’s. Fewer intrusions in the brain can lead to stronger neurons that are strong enough to prevent damages in the brain.
Strengthening these neurons leads the brain to become healthier and ultimately preventing memory loss and other related damages. This correlation between bilingualism and the prevention of Alzheimer’s is a head start for the discovery of more of what diseases the bilingual brain can prevent. A bilingual can grow to have a healthy life and away from a disease that dominates most people as they advanced in age. A bilingual’s flexible brain not only allows a bilingual to live a healthy lifestyle but also alternate between lifestyles. The bilingual experiences a personality change when she/he change between languages. The personality change is an impact of speaking two languages and also with the cultural influences that come with speaking these languages. When the bilingual switch is triggered, where a bilingual is switching from one language to another, their personality switch is also triggered. Their personality changes to fit accordingly with the culture that comes with the language they are speaking.
Not many researchers have ever gone to the bottom of the reasons why bilinguals experience a personality change, or even if any of them notice they do. One of the first researchers to ever span the topic is Berkeley Emeritus Professor Susan Ervin-Tripp. Early in her career, professor Tripp conducted a study in which including Japanese-American women. She asked the participants to complete sentences she gave them in both English and Japanese. She found that the bilingual participants proposed very different endings depending on the language the sentence was written in. Thus, for the sentence beginning, “When my wishes conflict with my family .
. .” one participant’s Japanese ending was, “. . . it is a time of great unhappiness,” whereas the English ending was, “.
. . I do what I want” ( Grosjean 2).
More than forty years later, a professor at Baruch College asked Hispanic American bilingual women students to interpret advertisements. Professor David Luna and his colleagues used Target advertisements picturing women, first in one language and, six months later, in the other. The results of this experiment have concluded that when interpreting the advertisements in Spanish, bilinguals perceived the women in the ads as more self-sufficient as well as extrovert. Whereas when they interpreted the ads in English, however, they expressed more traditional, other-dependent and a more family-oriented view of the women.