Canadian scientists have found astonishing evidence that the lifelong use of two languages can help delay the onset of dementia symptoms by four years compared to people who are monolingual.
There has been much interest and growing scientific literature examining how lifestyle factors such as physical activity, education and social engagement may help build "cognitive reserve" in later years of life. Cognitive reserve refers to enhanced neural plasticity, compensatory use of alternative brain regions, and enriched brain vasculature, all of which are thought to provide a general protective function against the onset of dementia symptoms.
Now scientists with the Rotman Research Institute at the Baycrest Research Centre for Aging and the Brain have found the first evidence that another lifestyle factor, bilingualism, may help delay dementia symptoms. The study is published in the February 2007 issue of Neuropsychologia (Vol.45, No.2).
"We are pretty dazzled by the results," says principal investigator Ellen Bialystok, Ph.D., whose research team at Baycrest included psychologist Dr. Fergus Craik, a world authority on age-related changes in memory processes, and neurologist Dr. Morris Freedman, an eminent authority on understanding the mechanisms underlying cognitive impairment due to diseases such as Alzheimer's.
"Our study found that speaking two languages throughout one's life appears to be associated with a delay in the onset of symptoms of dementia by four years compared to those who speak one language," says Dr. Bialystok, Professor of Psychology at York University and Associate Scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest.
The study follows on the heels of previous published reports by Dr. Bialystok and colleagues showing that bilingualism enhances attention and cognitive control in both children and older adults. Those results inspired Bialystok and her research team to ask, "So what does this mean for the onset of dementia?"
In this present study, researchers set out to answer that question by examining the diagnostic records of 184 patients who came to Baycrest's Sam and Ida Ross Memory Clinic between 2002 and 2005 with cognitive complaints. Of that group, 91 were monolingual and 93 were bilingual. The bilinguals included speakers of 25 different languages, the most prevalent being Polish, Yiddish, German, Romanian and Hungarian.
Researchers found that 132 patients met criteria for probable Alzheimer's; the remaining 52 were diagnosed with other dementias. Patient data included Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scores (a measure of general cognitive functioning), years of education and occupation. The MMSE scores were equivalent for the monolingual and bilingual groups at their initial visit to the clinic, indicating comparable levels of impairment. The age of onset of cognitive impairment was determined by the interviewing neurologist at the first clinic visit who asked patients and their families or caregivers when symptoms were first noticed.
The researchers determined that the mean age of onset of dementia symptoms in the monolingual group was 71.4 years, while the bilingual group was 75.5 years. This difference remained even after considering the possible effect of cultural differences, immigration, formal education, employment and even gender as influencers in the results.
"There are no pharmacological interventions that are this dramatic," says Dr. Freedman, who is Head of the Division of Neurology, and Director of the Memory Clinic at Baycrest, referring to the four-year delay in onset of symptoms for bilingual patients.
"The data show a huge protective effect," adds co-investigator Dr. Craik, who cautioned that this is still a preliminary finding but nonetheless in line with a number of other recent findings about lifestyle effects on dementia.
The team is working on a follow-up study that will further examine bilingualism and dementia onset. They plan to conduct interviews and cognitive assessments on bilingual and monolingual patients in Baycrest's Memory Clinic and follow them for a few years.
Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.
Thanks to Pilar Torres for posting this article on Facebook.
Imagen: Flickr (Vanderlinse)
Many of our students may be unaware that they bring with them one of the strongest cognitive advantages to learning. They are fortunate enough to be bilingual. The ability to speak more than one language is one that offers many cognitive rewards now and into old age.
People who speak more than one language fluently throughout their life have better problem solving skills, better attention, improved executive function and reduce the risk and severity of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other brain deterioration issues (Bialystok, 2004, 2010). Children who are bilingual may have some benefit in learning to read due to a stronger working memory (Swanson, 2006).
Speaking more than one language is more complex than we first thought. Bilingualism requires a fundamental reorganization of the entire language system in the brain. Having more than one language housed in the brain puts tremendous pressure on the pre-frontal cortex, that area of our brain that deals with working memory and executive function. For this reason, brains of people who are bilingual have a constant mental workout in this particular brain region, (Penn, 2010). The result is no different than what happens when you work out any area of the body-strength and increased efficiency.
The reasons for this appear to be multiple. First, if you are fluently bilingual, the areas of the brain that operate both languages are operating all the time. This is true, even if you remain in a mono-linguistic environment. For example, if you speak both Portuguese and English fluently, but work in an English speaking school and live in an English speaking community so that all day long you hear and speak nothing but English, the area of your brain responsible for Portuguese is still running as you speak and listen to English. Both areas run in tandem.
The areas of dual language are very much intertwined and organized by the brain region responsible for executive function. Apparently the lexicons of the languages are partially shared and handled by the pre-frontal cortex. We can see this in instances of aphasia. Aphasia is a condition where language, or parts of language are lost, usually due to a head trauma. Occasionally the aphasia results in a very select deficit in just one area of lexical processing. For example, a person may lose the ability to speak nouns or just verbs, or even just past tenses of verbs. When this type of injury happens to a bilingual person, they lose the specific grammatical class in both languages. In other words, if you speak both French and English and can no longer say any nouns, you have lost that ability in both languages (Mozzo, 2010). I’ll mention here too, that recovery is faster and more complete for this condition if you are bilingual (Penn, 2010).
New research is also showing us how critical language is to the formation of cultural self. A person’s cultural belief system and autobiographical recounts are influenced and accessed differently through different languages. Bilingual children who were interviewed in both of their languages had different stories, memories and personal reports based on which language was used in asking the question (Wang, 2010).
So, what does this mean for bilingual students in our classrooms? Help them understand this incredibly valuable gift they bring with them to school. Encourage them to continue to use, speak and read, whenever possible, in both of their languages. Ask them questions that they can respond to in either language. Have them share stories, recall information and learn in both languages: "Tell me in English what you remember learning about the water cycle, and then tell me again in your language." Encourage their bilingualism and help them celebrate their gift.
Bialystok, Ellen. (2010). Global-local and trail-making tasks by monolingual and bilingual children: Beyond inhibition. Developmental Psychology, Vol 46(1), 93-105.
Bialystok, E.; Craik, F.; Klein, R. & Viswanathan, M. (2004). Bilingualism, Aging and Cognitive Control. Psychology and Aging, Vol 19(2), 290-303.
Miozzo, M.; Costa, A.; Hernández, M; Rapp, B. (2010). Lexical processing in the bilingual brain: Evidence from grammatical/morphological deficits. Aphasiology, Vol 24(2), 262-287
Penn, C.; Frankel, T.; Watermeyer, J.; Russell, N. (2010). Executive function and conversational strategies in bilingual aphasia. Aphasiology, Vol 24(2), 288-308
Swanson, H., Saez, L. & Gerber, M. (2006). Growth in Literacy and Cognition in Bilingual Children at Risk or Not at Risk for Reading Disabilities. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 98(2), 247-264.
Wang, Qi; Shao, Yi; Li, Yexin Jessica (2010). "My way or mom's way?" The bilingual and bicultural self in Hong Kong Chinese children and adolescents. Child Development, Vol 81(2), 555-567.
Kathie F. Nunley is an educational psychologist, author, researcher and speaker living in southern New Hampshire. Developer of the Layered Curriculum® method of instruction, Dr. Nunley has authored several books and articles on teaching in mixed-ability classrooms and other problems facing today's teachers. Full references and additional teaching and parental tips are available at: http://Brains.org
Image: Flickr (stumayhew)
Lera Boroditsky, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has done extensive work in the field of cognitive linguistics. She focuses on the interactions between language, perception and cognition.
Professor Boroditsky’s research has provided insight into the question of whether or not languages shape the way we think. She has discovered what is referred to as “cross-linguistic difference” in thought and perception in speakers of different languages.
The controversial questions raised above have been under debate for a number of years but up to recently, very little empirical evidence has been carried out. However, research carried out by Stanford University and MIT has demonstrated that people who speak different languages do perceive the world differently.
For example, in the case of languages where gender player a role (for example, Spanish, German, French) when asked to describe objects research showed that adjective use differed depending on the gender in the language in question. In one study, Boroditsky and her team asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects which had opposite genders in the two languages. For example, the word “key” (masculine in German and feminine in Spanish) was described as “hard”, “heavy”, “metal”, “useful” by Germans whereas Spaniards used adjectives like “intricate”, “little”, “lovely”, “shiny”, “golden”. This pattern was observed with other sets of words even when testing was carried out in English.
The way people perceive time also differs between languages. In English, for example, time is usually seen as being horizontal and there tends to be a use of phrases such as “Good times lie ahead” and “The problems are behind us now”. On the other hand, Mandarin speakers use vertical metaphors for time, for example, next month is the “down month” and the last month is the “up month”.
Boroditsky points out that in order to use their language properly speakers of different languages must attend to and encode different aspects of the world.
Those who believe in the idea of these cross-linguistic differences point out that learning a language goes beyond simply learning vocabulary and structures but also implies paying attention to the right things in the world to include correct information in what you say.
What do you think?
Thanks to Marco Ferreira and Henrick Oprea for the link to this article:
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Language Support in CLIL Classes
When teaching content areas in English it is important to keep in mind that students will need a lot of language support in order to learn the subject matter being presented. Teachers need to anticipate language barriers that come up in class and be prepared to deal with them.
Before doing a reading text in class and in order to give students support, teacher can:
There are a number of techniques that can be used to offer support to students when developing writing skills. Teachers can provide:
Teachers should also be aware that students might struggle when carrying out listening tasks on content area material. In order to help them, teachers can:
It is important for students to be able to communicate in L2. Teachers can provide support during speaking activities by:
When teaching content areas in L1 it is not as vital to anticipate language demands as it is when teaching in L2. Language support when carrying out CLIL programmes is extremely important as it provides students with the tools they need to understand the subject being taught.
Source: Based on ideas from John Clegg’s article: Planning CLIL Lessons
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The Bilingual Learning Blog team wishes you all the best for the summer holidays! Don’t forget us while you are relaxing by the seaside… we’ll still be uploading weekly activities throughout the summer.
Now that you have some free time, feel free to let us know what you’d like to see in the upcoming months!
Enjoy the holidays!