Studies show that when you consistently use a second language, it becomes “active” in your brain alongside your original language. Your brain must choose one language over another to communicate. The brain learns to accomplish this more efficiently. It is changed architecturally (size, shape, and the integrity of white matter pathways connecting them) and functionally.
Researchers test these cognitive processes using tasks. The flanker task requires participants to determine the direction of an arrow surrounded by additional arrows facing the same or opposing direction. Bilingualism may help with activities like these by improving response speeds or accuracy. But not all studies discover these gains. Bilinguals and monolinguals seem to perform similarly.
The brain’s anatomical and functional adaptation to bilingualism differs. Even though their results are equal, both bilinguals and monolinguals may utilize the brain differently to accomplish executive function tasks. Other research has shown changes in brain anatomy. However, the areas and processes implicated are not always consistent. Some have questioned whether speaking more than one language significantly influences the brain, particularly on executive function activities. But bilingualism appears in numerous ways.
Some bilinguals acquire a second language from birth, whereas others do not. Depending on the situation, some bilinguals must continually transition between languages. It’s hard to imagine how the brain adjusts without this variety in bilingualism. So there’s more reason than ever to think about bilingualism as a spectrum of experiences rather than a binary choice. Various brain modifications have been linked to distinct bilingual language situations. A rising number of studies have looked at various characteristics of bilingualism, such as how long someone has been using several languages, how often they use them, and how often they switch between them.
These studies show that diverse linguistic experiences have unique impacts on brain adaptability and executive function performance. Moreover, these changes are dynamic, meaning the brain adjusts to changing circumstances. For example, while learning and utilizing a second language, the brain adjusts frontal parts of the cortex (regions used for administrative processes) to manage better the more significant effort necessary to pick and govern the languages.
The basal ganglia and cerebellum adapt if someone remains actively multilingual for an extended period. These areas are utilized to automate tasks, just the way your body can as you become fitter or build muscle memory. In other words, linguistic competition is being handled more effectively by the brain. So, does bilingualism enhance the brain? It depends. While much remains unknown about how the brain adjusts to bilingualism, it is apparent that how you use second language matters.