This is not a scan of my brain, but it could be.
An MRI of my brain would likely show less activity while processing language than the brain of someone who only speaks English. That is because bilingual brains are fitter – requiring less effort to process words than a monolingual.
Several recent studies also support the multiple cognitive benefits of bilingualism, including the ability to tune out extraneous noise, flexible ways of thinking and, possibly, protection against Alzheimer’s disease.
I did not know any of these things when I began learning French, some 30 years ago, at the Alliance Française in Paris. All I knew back then was that it seemed like a Herculean effort, an impossible task. How could I ever be expected to remember the complex rules for conjugating French verbs, the gender of various objects, not to mention the vocabulary you needed just to get by in day-to-day life?
It’s amazing what the human brain is capable of. The mental gymnastics paid off. Now I can do just about anything in French without really thinking about it, although I still struggle with numbers and have a hard time speaking to dogs and small children in that language.
Along the way, I discovered there are surprising benefits to being bilingual. Here are 5 things I’ve learned: