Advantages of Early Bilingualism

06 May 2024

Lianhe Zaobao, 6 May 2024, 越早学习双语对大脑越有益 或可延缓认知退化 (Translated summary)

As individuals age, both their bodies and brains undergo changes. Certain brain regions shrink, and the communication between neurons becomes less efficient. According to Professor Yow Wei Quin from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), these structural and functional changes contribute to an age-related decline in cognitive function, affecting language, processing speed, memory, and planning abilities.

In their paper titled ‘Brain grey matter morphometry relates to onset age of bilingualism and theory of mind in young and older adults,’ the SUTD team and collaborators from the National University of Singapore (NUS) demonstrated that early bilingualism may safeguard theory of mind abilities against normal age-related declines. Research indicates that learning and using a second language brings about structural and functional changes in the bilingual brain. The research team hypothesized that acquiring a second language early may influence brain function and foster more efficient structural properties, thereby providing reserves that mitigate age-related social cognition decline.

While most local students attain proficiency in English alongside their mother tongue, many gradually reduce their usage of the mother tongue upon entering higher education or joining the workforce.

Professor Yow Wei Quin advocates for instilling a strong foundation for bilingualism in local youth from childhood. She encourages young students to adopt a lifelong learning mindset and uphold their bilingual skills. Drawing upon previous research from the University of Science and Technology of China, she highlights that utilising multiple languages can enhance cognitive functions. “In addition to daily communication with family members, actively engaging in speaking their mother tongue, individuals can also utilise social media to watch videos or participate in cultural courses and activities, thereby increasing exposure to their mother tongue.