Being bilingual can help keep your brain in good condition

Pearson Languages
A  silohuette of a side profile of a womans head inside her head space is a ocean sunset

Learning and understanding a new language is one of the most challenging things that your brain can do. But as well as the advantage of acquiring another language, it appears that the effort of giving your brain a good workout today by being bilingual could keep it in better condition in later life.

Research led by Dr. Daniela Perani, a professor of psychology at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, found that people who speak two or more languages seem to weather the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease better compared to people who have only mastered one language. Alzheimer’s is a progressive mental deterioration that can begin in middle or old age due to generalized brain degeneration.

The study involved 85 people with Alzheimer’s – half of whom spoke both German and Italian and half who spoke only one language. The researchers found that bilingual patients had greater connectivity in key brain areas. This was especially in the part of the brain that governs “executive control” – a set of necessary behavioral cognitive processes that include problem-solving, working memory, reasoning and attentional control. The study also noted that the bilingual Alzheimer’s patients showed less severe symptoms of the disease.

The study concluded: “Our findings suggest that the effects of speaking two languages are more powerful than both age and education in providing a protection against cognitive decline.”

Bilingualism and the brain

Although Alzheimer’s disease is currently incurable, the study supports a popular theory that people who have higher levels of education function longer with little manifestation of the illness. Part of the reason why bilingual brains may be better at resisting Alzheimer’s could be due to a lifetime of switching between languages daily. 

Learning and speaking more than one language changes how the brain carries out tasks that require focus and concentration on a certain piece of information without being distracted. It can also increase the density of white matter (connections) in the brain, meaning that there are more connections between brain parts, thus making this part of the brain more resistant to degeneration.

This is supported by a study conducted by a team led by Professor Ana Inés Ansaldo at the University of Montreal, which suggests that bilingual people have more robust and more efficient brains compared to those who only speak one language. This is one of the reasons why a bilingual brain can be a buffer against aging and dementia.

They recruited elderly people, half of whom spoke only one language and the other half who had learned a second language between the ages of 11 and 18. All performed equally well on a task that involved focusing on an object's color while ignoring its position, but brain scans revealed a big difference in how they processed the task.

“While bilinguals were recruiting very specific brain areas and a small number of areas to perform the task, monolinguals were recruiting a much larger number of areas that were consuming much more resources. And the networks they were using were very, very complex,” says Professor Ansaldo. “That led us to think that the bilingual brain was more efficient in terms of the amount of resources that bilingual people require to do complex tasks as opposed to the monolingual brain.”

The study concludes that bilingualism shapes the brain in a different way or how people approach complex tasks. It could be because bilinguals must inhibit the language they are not using to focus on the one that they are using.

More blogs from Pearson

  • A businessman writing on a whiteboard

    A guide to mastering business English writing

    By Pearson Languages
    Reading time: 5 minutes

    Effective communication is critical in the fast-paced world of global commerce. For non-fluent English speakers (or emerging professionals who have just entered their first business careers), crafting compelling work documents can be a daunting task. Mastering workplace writing skills is vital whether you're seeking to close a deal, make contacts, establish a professional relationship or simply make your day-to-day correspondence more impactful.

    Understanding the nuances of business English and applying them skillfully can set your company and you apart in the competitive corporate arena. Have a look at our guide on how to improve your corporate English writing skills.

    What is it?

    Business writing refers to the clear and purposeful use of language in written form within a professional context. It encompasses a wide range of documents, including emails, reports, proposals and presentations, tailored to communicate effectively with clients, colleagues and stakeholders. That can also include writing web content for professional audiences and clients.

    What's an example of business writing?

    One example is a formal email to a client:

    Subject: Proposal for Partnership

    Dear Mr. Smith,

    I hope this email finds you well. I'm writing to present a partnership opportunity with XYZ Corp that aligns with your company's goals for expansion and innovation.

    [...]

    I look forward to your response and the possibility of future collaboration.

    Warm regards,

    Jane Doe

    Why is effective business writing important?

    Effective business writing is crucial as it reflects the professionalism and credibility of an individual and their organization. It ensures that the message is understood as intended, which is pivotal in decision-making processes and maintaining positive business relationships.

    Clear writing improves workplace communication by minimizing misunderstandings, saving time and enhancing productivity. It facilitates seamless collaboration between teams and departments and aids in developing and maintaining a positive professional image.

    Key elements of professional English writing

    When crafting business documents, several key elements ensure your workplace writing is effective and well-received. These elements include:

    • Structure and organization: A well-structured document with a clear introduction, body and conclusion makes your content more understandable and engaging. Use headings and bullet points to break down information and guide the reader through your message.
    • Tone and formality: The tone should match the context and purpose of your communication. While a business proposal might require formal language, an internal email to colleagues can be less formal. Understanding the nuances of tone can greatly impact how your message is perceived.
    • Purpose-driven writing: Every piece of corporate writing should have a clear purpose. Whether it's to inform, persuade, request or confirm, keeping the purpose in mind ensures that your writing is focused and achieves its intended goal.
    • Attention to detail: Precision and accuracy are paramount. This includes correct grammar, punctuation and spelling, as well as ensuring that all facts and figures mentioned are accurate. Errors in your writing can diminish your credibility and confuse the message.
    • Cultural sensitivity: In a global business environment, it is crucial to be aware of cultural differences and avoid culturally sensitive phrases. This sensitivity can prevent misunderstandings and foster more harmonious business relations.

    By focusing on these elements of workplace writing, you can enhance your business English writing and ensure it's both professional and effective.

    How can I improve my professional English writing?

    Improving your business English writing involves focusing on clarity, conciseness and appropriateness. Here are a few strategies to get you started:

    • Immerse yourself in business language: Read a variety of business-related materials such as reports, emails and articles.
    • Practice regularly: Engage in writing exercises that mimic real-world business scenarios.
    • Get feedback: Have your writing reviewed by proficient English speakers and incorporate their suggestions.
    • Brush up on basics: Reinforce your understanding of grammar, vocabulary and punctuation.
    • Utilize technology: Take advantage of language learning apps and online courses that offer business English modules. These tools can provide interactive learning experiences and immediate feedback.
    • Join professional networks: Participate in forums and networking groups where business English is used. Observing and engaging in discussions can enhance your understanding and application of business terminologies and conventions.

    Practical business writing tips

    You've got a writing task to start but you don't quite know how to approach it. Here are some actionable steps to help you:

    • Start with a clear purpose: Define the objective of your document and stick to it.
    • Organize your thoughts: Use headings, bullet points and paragraphs to structure your content logically.
    • Be concise: Use straightforward language and eliminate redundant words.
    • Use an appropriate tone: Maintain professionalism and consider the cultural context of your audience.
    • Revise and edit: Always revise your work for errors and clarity before sending it.

    Bad corporate writing

    To illustrate what to avoid, here are a few examples of bad writing:

    • Overuse of complex vocabulary leading to confusing sentences.
    • Long-winded paragraphs that bury the main point.
    • Casual or inappropriate language and words that don't fit the business context.
    • Writing that lacks a clear call to action.
    • Ignoring cultural nuances and making assumptions based on one's own cultural context. This can lead to misinterpretations or even offense, undermining the purpose of the communication.

    A bad example

    Applying the points above, you can begin to see how this message uses some of these examples, this could be perfectly fine for written conversation with a friend but not on a more serious, professional level:

    Subject: Quick Hello and Ask 

    Hey!

    Hope this message finds ya in good spirits. Wanna catch up real quick this Thursday on a lil' something I've got on my mind? Got an idea that might just be up your alley - think major game-changer vibes for both of us. Let's make it happen. Excited to hear your thoughts!

    Cheers!

    Alex

    The effects of poor professional writing

    Poor business writing can have far-reaching repercussions that can significantly impact an individual's career progression as well as an organization's reputation. Ineffective communication may lead to misunderstandings and loss of opportunities, eroding trust between parties and taking a toll on professional relationships. It's not just about immediate confusion or delays; the long-term effects can include the potential loss of business, as clients and partners may perceive inefficiency and lack of professionalism.

    English for effective business writing

    Mastering workplace writing is a continuous process that demands dedication and practice. By focusing on clarity, structure and an audience-centered approach, you can craft messages that not only inform customers but also influence them.

    Keep refining your skills, taking feedback positively, and staying updated with trends. Your written word has the potential to make a real impact in the business world, so wield your pen (or keyboard) and write with confidence and precision.

    Unlock your full potential in the business world with our comprehensive Business English courses. Also, check out our post '5 ways to politely say no in business English' and other language learning posts

  • A teacher with children stood over a globe of the world, with children pointing to it

    Using gamification in teaching: Engage, educate and excite

    By Pearson Languages
    Reading time: 6 minutes

    In an era where student engagement can be as challenging as the teaching itself, educators are constantly seeking innovative ways to capture attention and enhance learning. Gamification has emerged as a dynamic solution, promising to turn education into a more engaging and enjoyable experience. But what does gamification really entail, and how can it be effectively implemented in teaching? Let’s have a look:

  • A teacher stoof over computers that students are sat at

    Boosting your learners' English language speaking skills

    By Pearson Languages
    Reading time: 4 minutes

    Teaching a language goes beyond imparting the rules of grammar and vocabulary. It's about unlocking the confidence in students to use that language in real-life conversations. Confidence in speaking is the bridge that connects classroom learning with the world outside.

    In the era where digital solutions can complement traditional teaching methods, Mondly by Pearson can play a pivotal role in boosting learners' speaking confidence.

    Why is it important to build students confidence?

    Before we explore Mondly by Pearson's strengths, it's crucial to understand why speaking confidence matters. Communication is the heart of language, and confident speakers are more likely to use their language skills actively. They're more open to participating in conversations, which reinforces their learning and fosters better retention of the new language used.

    Research has shown that 52% of English Learners leave their formal education without confidence in their speaking skills. Mondly by Pearson is your ultimate solution in tackling this challenge head-on, with 500+ minutes of English-speaking practice to build your learners' skills and confidence.

    What causes a lack of confidence in speaking English?

    There are a multitude of factors that contribute to a lack of confidence in speaking the English language well or any language for that matter. Some English learners feel self-conscious when their accent doesn't match what they perceive as the standard or desired accent.

    Additionally, a lack of practice opportunities or speaking practice, especially in a supportive and constructive environment, can hinder students from becoming comfortable and fluent speakers. Understanding these challenges is the first step in overcoming them, allowing educators to tailor their teaching strategies to address these specific concerns and build a more inclusive and encouraging learning atmosphere.

    What is Mondly by Pearson?

    Mondly by Pearson is an English language learning application aligned to the Global Scale of English. With Pearson pedagogy at its core, Mondly by Pearson offers over 500 minutes of speaking practice. Immersive AI-powered conversations, advanced speech recognition and engaging role plays, accelerate learning and build confidence.