bilingualism, executive functions, cognition


Late bilinguals, those who learn a language past the critical period, are often thought to not receive much benefits from their language learning in comparison to their early bilingual counterparts. A large of body of recent research suggests otherwise. Late bilinguals receive the same cognitive benefits as early bilinguals; these benefits are in higher levels of executive functions, specifically in inhibitory control and attentional switching. Higher levels of executive functions assist learners in improving their mental processing and cognitive health over the course of their lifetime. Aging bilinguals have greater cognitive health due to more white and gray matter density. This protects the brain from normal aging and leads to a later onset of age-related illnesses. These and all other advantages from bilingualism are mediated through the learner’s proficiency and frequency of use of the language. In highly proficient bilinguals, higher levels of inhibitory control overcome the bilingual disadvantage of decreased lexical access speeds. Highly proficient bilinguals also have more white and gray matter, further suppressing aging. Research into the effects of bilingualism shows that the advantages over monolinguals in executive functions are quite early in language training and then continue to evolve and benefit bilinguals throughout language learning. The continuum of the bilingualism despite, in fact in spite, of age benefits learners the same cognitively, demonstrating the universal advantage this mental exercise.