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How to Keep Your Mind from Growing Old

We are constantly bombarded with advertisements promising us products for keeping our bodies looking young. But… What about our minds? Should we just assume that there’s no way to keep our minds getting old? Well, before you let this get you down, science has a bit of good news for bilingual people: it appears that having the possibility of communicating in two languages may help us fight “mental aging.” A recent psychological study discovered that compared to people who speak only one language, bilingual people have a greater ability to stay focused on a task in the midst of a constantly changing environment. This ability to stay focused, to find meaning in the madness and solve problems is known as “fluid intelligence,” and is one of the first brain functions to weaken as we get older. Researchers suggest that the ability to stay focused and concentrate on the task at hand while ignoring unnecessary information may be involve some of the same brain processes associated with using multiple languages.

The dictionary defines a bilingual person as someone who is able to communicate in more than one language, be it actively (oral and written) or passively (reading and listening comprehension). I have a preference for the definition that a very intelligent Engineer who spoke Spanish and English gave me several years ago: “People often ask those of us who speak two languages which language we think in. Being bilingual is first thinking, having an idea (or a question, answer or comment) shaped in your brain, and then deciding which language to say it in, because it’s all the same to us to use either one.”

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