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Editorial

Knowing Two Languages Protects against Dementia

It is said that one of the reasons why Greek-American parents refuse to teach their children Greek is their fear of the youngsters getting confused between the two languages. And since they are raising them in America and take it for granted that they will continue to live there, they prefer to speak only English to them.

This theory was more prevalent in the past. However, it is still followed nowadays, with negative results. And it has negative effects because it deprives children – especially those from immigrant families – of the opportunity to learn from an early age the language of their ancestors, which is also generally useful as it is the root of other languages and the sciences. It is understood that knowing Greek has boosted the SAT scores of many Greek-American children – so many scientific and technical words are based in the Greek language. And, furthermore, one never knows whether a child may one day need it because of technology in the increasingly interdependent world in which we live.

Recently, however, a wide-ranging study has been published that proves the claim: People who speak two languages daily when they are young have better memory later in life.

Specifically, according to a New York Times report, researchers in Germany who studied hundreds of elderly people found that “those who used two languages from an early age performed higher on tests of learning, memory, language and self-control than patients who spoke only one language.”

The study was published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging and adds further evidence to research that has been going on for two decades and suggests that “bilingualism protects against dementia and cognitive decline in older people.”

Professor Miguel Arce Renteria, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University, who was not involved with the research, said that, “this would line up with the existing literature.”
Esti Blanco-Elorrieta, a language researcher at Harvard University, said according to the Times, “I think the importance of being bilingual is being able to communicate with two cultures and two ways of seeing the world.”

However, there are also studies that do not find similar benefits from being bilingual. Nevertheless, I believe we should err on the side of ‘caution’ and promote bilingualism…

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