The study was carried out in one of the most linguistically diverse locations in the world, a place where people speak multiple languages as standard: Hyderabad, India.
The Languages of Hyderabad
The population of Hyderabad is continually exposed to at least three languages as standard, hence why many learn a second language fluently from childhood. It’s not uncommon for residents to adopt three languages.
These languages include:
- Telugu, the language used by the major Hindu community of the region;
- Dakhani, which is favoured by the Muslim community;
- Hindi; and
The chosen location for the study was key. Researchers were able to focus directly on language as the contributing factor, as they could rule out other influences such as health, age, sex, academic status and lifestyle, providing completely independent results. Although in the past many have championed the cognitive benefits of being bilingual, this study has shown a significant advantage for bi-linguists over mono-linguists.
The results were quite extraordinary, with bilingual participants experiencing the onset of dementia a significant four and a half years later than those who only spoke one language.
While being surrounded by multiple languages from a young age was a contributing factor, interestingly the study found that the ability to read and write was of no significance at all.
The study states that being bilingual enhances the development of cognitive functions such as control and conflict resolution. This is because a bi-linguist is able to choose one language while keeping the other “locked away”, a practice that keeps the brain active and healthy.
Aside from the obvious business benefits, it’s reassuring to see that there are multiple health benefits too.