7 Ways to Use Multilingualism to Enhance Your Cognitive Reserve

Human Brain

Last week, we reviewed the literature that active multilingualism improves our cognitive reserves and thus, has the potential to postpone or even help us avoid dementia; however, this research means nothing if we do not take action in our own lives. Here are a seven ways we can use the research on multilingualism and the brain to enhance our cognitive reserves.

  1. Place yourself in situations where you have to learn new languages or use and improve the ones you already know. This may be at work, meetups, cultural events, restaurants, etc. You are more likely to be an active bilingual when you face situations that force you to use the languages that are less common in society.
  2. Read books in your less used language(s). It’s another way you can be more active in your bilingualism. Depending on the books you choose, you may even learn new things, bringing about double benefits for the brain.
  3. Watch television in your less used language(s). Satellite TV and YouTube have many options in numerous world languages. My daughter and I just finished Malli in Tamil off of YouTube. It’s a fun way to stay active in your less used language(s).
  4. Listen to podcasts from around the world. Currently, I’m listening to Las Raras Podcast from Chile. (I don’t recommend it for kids though.) Not only do podcasts allow you to be active in your multilingualism, but as we mentioned when talking about reading books, you will likely learn something new as well. Double benefits for your brain!
  5. Teach the next generation your mother tongue and insist that the language be the language of your home. This way, you will continue to actively use the language with your children through your old age and hopefully, your children will pass the language on and continue being active bilinguals as well. (Obviously, I am speaking to those who have a mother tongue that is different than the language spoken in the larger community.)
  6. Limit translanguaging. This is a hard one for those of us who speak more than one language at home, but the more you push yourself to stay within a language instead of mixing languages, the more you are exercising the part of your brain that controls executive function. Personally, I’ve made this my new goal because I translanguage a lot when speaking to my family at home.
  7. Travel extensively to places where the language(s) you speak is/are used. (Of course, wait until the CDC says it’s safe considering our current pandemic.) Remember from last week’s blog post that traveling to new places in itself has been found to provide brain benefits, so here’s another opportunity for double brain benefits. Also, be willing to think outside the box. For instance, when I traveled solo to Italy, I made friends with an Italian who spoke Spanish. We met up every evening just to hang out. I ended up learning a lot about Italy and the culture from her even though I was not in a country where any of the languages I speak are commonly used.

The bottom line is to find ways to keep using our languages and to continue growing our linguistic repertoire. Hopefully, by doing this, we can keep our brains as healthy as we possibly can.

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