Benefits of bilingualism on the brain

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A renowned neuroscientist gave a lecture recently at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI in Skye on the effects of bilingualism and language learning on brain mechanism and a person’s cognitive abilities.

Dr Thomas Bak from the University of Edinburgh has been involved in several studies on the impact bilingualism can have on the functions of the brain.

He has also been involved in research into the effect bilingualism can have on the onset of dementia.

In his recent lecture at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, he talked of the cognitive benefits of both bilingualism and learning another language.

He said that attitudes had changed in terms of the way people viewed bilingualism. In the past, before detailed research had been carried out, there were some who thought that bilingualism or learning another language could have a detrimental effect on how children’s cognitive abilities developed at a young age.

However, there is now a large body of evidence which shows that there are clear cognitive benefits from bilingualism. Dr Bak also spoke of the research recently carried out by one of his students, Maddie Long.

In her research, Maddie has been looking at the effect of language learning among adults who have taken a Gaelic short course at Sabhal Mòr.

At the end of the course, students showed a significant improvement in attention switching and her results suggested that even after a short period of intensive language learning there was an improvement in attentional functions and that all age groups can benefit from this effect.

Maddie then returned to retest the students after nine months, and her evidence suggested that there continued to be attentional benefits for those who practised Gaelic for five hours or more a week.