Speaking two languages has already been shown to make us smarter, but only recently has new research found that growing up in a bilingual home can bring unique, possibly even unexpected, long-term cognitive benefits.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) led by Dr. Dean D’Souza, and published in Scientific Reports. 127 adults took part in this research, which comprised two separate experiments: the first consisted in looking at a pair of images on a display, with one of them gradually changing and the other remaining the same; the second studied how the participants diverted their attention from one photo to another.

Many may wonder what a visual test has to do with one’s ability to speak two languages with one’s family: the results showed for the first time ever that adults who learn a second language in their childhood are faster in shifting their attention and identifying visual changes compared to people who are considered “late bilingual speakers”, meaning that they learned a second language later in life. In short, the ability to inhibit one language in order to switch to another, and the flexibility in speaking languages even in a short period of time would be reflected in the speed in adapting to surrounding environments and in noticing certain changes.

D’Souza said: “This study is an exciting extension of our previous research, which suggested that children raised in bilingual families adapt to their more complex language environments by shifting attention faster and more frequently. This skill can help them take advantage of multiple sources of visual information, such as mouth movements, facial expressions and subtle gestures, ultimately helping them learn more languages. The results of our new research with bilingual adults suggest that some of these adaptations, including being quicker in shifting attention, are preserved into adulthood”.


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