Languages are Brain Fuel: A Look into Cognitive Benefits of Bilingualism

Knowing more than one language is beneficial in many ways, but have you ever considered how the bilingual brain benefits from multiple languages?

Compared to non-bilinguals, or those who only know one language, language science research has shown that bilinguals are often better at focusing, remembering, and decision-making; using logic; and learning other languages. Let’s first think of this logically, without the science.

In society today, we are constantly bombarded by information. The more information available to us, the more focus that is required when we try to accomplish certain tasks. With so much information comes the need to store it in our memory. It may seem paradoxical, but during the age of information that we find ourselves living in today, our memory is getting worse. Formerly, we had to consult encyclopedias, flip through dictionaries, and read physical books (you read that right) to find the information we were looking for. Then, we’d store it in our memory and likely not need to make the effort to reread those resources the next time we needed the information. Why? Because we knew that it wouldn’t be easy to return to the information. With the internet, however, it is easier than ever to find information of any sort in one place. We no longer need to commit this information to memory because, if we forget it, it isn’t such a feat to find it again.

Our brain is a muscle that we must exercise for it to do what we need it to do when the time comes. Thus, when we find excuses to not memorize certain things, for example, we aren’t working our brain as much as we could. This is not good for the health of our brains, which naturally declines in efficiency as we get older.

Have you ever considered that knowing more than one language, in and of itself, could be keeping your brain exercising and staying healthier? Believe it or not, studies have shown that, on average, the symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, for example, are delayed 4-5 years for bilinguals when compared to non-bilinguals. This is huge, and not only can bilingualism be healthy for the aging brain, but it also has benefits day to day. Let’s take a step back and try to understand what bilingualism even looks like in the brain. (Ok, now to the science part.)

Knowing more than one language is much more complicated than simply being able to access words and grammar for more than one language. Language is stored in our brains as a network of information, and each language we know is not as separate as you might imagine or as linguists previously thought. Let’s try to simplify this. Take the word in English cat for example. Other words that begin with the same c sound in both English and Spanish would be activated for a Spanish-English speaker who is trying to come up with the word for that fluffy pet. Of course, though, language is more than sounds. The word in Spanish gato has little similarity in sound to cat, but the meaning is the same. In a very short amount of time, our brains are able to make a decision about which information is relevant to the current context. Our brain quickly decides that gato is not the word we are looking for, and that any other words in English starting with the c sound aren’t either. The bilingual brain can focus its attention very adeptly on the target information and make decisions with great speed. And not just language decisions. Because the bilingual brain is constantly making decisions given the extra language information it has, bilingual individuals may find decision-making to be easier and quicker than non-bilinguals.

As if the cognitive benefits aren’t enough, bilinguals are more prepared and able to learn yet another language more easily than those who have yet to learn one. This is because the brain already knows how to organize the information in such a way that differentiates the previous two languages. It is ready to take in another language and organize it into the existing system.

The brain benefits of bilingualism could be motivation alone to stick with learning a language or to start learning one at all. For those of you who are bilingual, take some time to reflect on the ways your multiple languages are supporting you cognitively. And spread the word about the benefits with those who may have no idea how good for their brains additional languages could be!


Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., & Luk, G. (2012). Bilingualism: Consequences for mind and brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(4), 240–250.

Dooley, K. (2023, November 22). The bilingual brain may be better at ignoring irrelevant information. UF News.

Neuroscience News. (2023, August 27). Bilingual brain boost: How knowing Two languages enhances memory and prediction.

Shade, M. (2020, October 24). Bilingualism is good medicine for the brain. CNN. lness/index.html

Skibba, R. (2018, November 29). How a Second language can boost the brain. Knowable Magazine | Annual Reviews.


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