Cognitive Advantages

Adapted from Stroop, 1935

Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals tend to perform better on tasks like this one. This may be because bilinguals constantly practice switching between the rules of two languages. Monolinguals can improve their cognitive flexibility with practice. Sorting by different features, or playing games like “Simon says” which ask children to inhibit a response, are a fun way to practice.

There are other cognitive advantages related to bilingualism. Bilingual 6-month-olds have a more flexible memory system compared to their monolingual peers. This advantage continues over the lifespan. Some studies suggest that bilingualism may help delay age-related decline in abilities like cognitive flexibility and memory.

  • Bilingual
    a person who knows and uses two languages
    Code mixing
    mixing words from different languages in the same sentence or situation
    Cognitive flexibility
    the ability to quickly switch between different concepts or rules
    Dominant language
    is the language a bilingual is most skilled at understanding and/or speaking
    Executive function
    a set of mental abilities that help us plan, focus attention, problem solve, and switch between tasks
    Language transfer
    applying the knowledge from one language to another language
    a person who knows and uses a single language
    Simultaneous bilingualism
    a person learns two or more languages from birth
    Sequential bilingualism
    a person first learns one language then learns one or more languages later