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09/11/2013 04:32 pm ET Updated Sep 12, 2013

Bilinguals Have Higher Level Of Mental Flexibility, Research Shows

fuengirola, malaga, spain
fuengirola, malaga, spain

The evidence keeps pouring in that bilingualism is good for you.

Bilinguals with the ability to switch languages seamlessly have likely developed a higher level of mental flexibility than people who only speak one language, researchers at Penn State said Tuesday in a press statement.

"In the past, bilinguals were looked down upon," Professor of Psychology, Linguistics and Women's Studies Judith F. Kroll said in a press statement. "Not only is bilingualism not bad for you, it may be really good. When you're switching languages all the time it strengthens your mental muscle and your executive function becomes enhanced."

Researchers performed two experiements on English and Spanish speakers to assess whether both languages were active in their minds at all times. In the first, subjects read 512 sentences in either English or Spanish, switching between the two every two sentences, and had to read cognates out load in red as quickly and accurately as possible. The subjects rarely tripped up. The linguists then performed the same experiment, one language at a time, with similar results.

“Bilinguals rarely say a word in the unintended language, which suggests that they have the ability to control the parallel activity of both languages and ultimately select the intended language without needing to consciously think about it,” the release says.

The researchers published the results of the experiments in Frontiers in Psychology.

The study is part of a growing body of evidence upending the traditional view that growing up bilingual hindered cognitive development.

But not everyone is getting the message. The school board of Irving, Texas, is moving to limit the use of Spanish in the district’s bilingual education. Arizona voters banned bilingual education in the year 2000.

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

  • 1 Because lots of Americans speak Spanish
    As of 2012, approximately 38.3 million people in the U.S. spoke&nbsp;Spanish at home, according to the <a href="http://www.ce
    Getty
    As of 2012, approximately 38.3 million people in the U.S. spoke Spanish at home, according to the U.S. Census. That's 13 percent of U.S. residents ages 5 and older. 
  • 2 Because a bunch of our states, cities and streets have Spanish names
    Nevada, Colorado, Los Angeles, Florida, Montana, San Antonio, California and Sacramento are all Spanish words or names. The l
    Getty
    Nevada, Colorado, Los Angeles, Florida, Montana, San Antonio, California and Sacramento are all Spanish words or names. The list goes on and on.
  • 3 Because Spanish was spoken in what is today the United States before English
    Spanish colonizers first set foot in the area that would become the United States in the 16th century, <a href="http://www.st
    Getty Images
    Spanish colonizers first set foot in the area that would become the United States in the 16th century, founding a permanent colony in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565 -- well before the English set up Jamestown. All European languages, on the other hand, are more foreign to North America than Karuk, Cherokee, Natchez or the scores of other languages of the indigenous peoples of the continent.
  • 4 Because the U.S. has more Spanish speakers than Spain
    In 2013, the U.S. had the 5th largest Spanish-speaking population in the world. However, in 2015 it moved up to the <a href="
    Getty Images
    In 2013, the U.S. had the 5th largest Spanish-speaking population in the world. However, in 2015 it moved up to the number two spot behind Mexico.
  • 5 Because it’s the most-spoken language on the island of Puerto Rico
    And Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory whose inhabitants are U.S. citizens.
    Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    And Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory whose inhabitants are U.S. citizens.
  • 6 Because the U.S. does not have an official language
    English is not the official language of the United States.&nbsp;Though <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/
    Getty Images
    English is not the official language of the United States. Though several states across the nation have adopted legislation establishing English as their official language, no such legislation has been adopted on a federal level.
  • 7 Because even English-speaking people use Spanish words on a daily basis
    Words like "cafeteria," "vanilla," and even "ranch" are derived from Spanish.&nbsp;
    Creatas via Getty Images
    Words like "cafeteria," "vanilla," and even "ranch" are derived from Spanish. 
  • 8 Because this Spanish-language network is a ratings beast
    Spanish broadcast network Univision regularly <a href="http://corporate.univision.com/2016/05/may-sweeps-to-date-univision-ra
    Photo by Alexander Tamargo/WireImage
    Spanish broadcast network Univision regularly outperforms English-language networks, especially on a local level. Univision stations in Los Angeles, New York, Houston and Sacramento closed out the May 2016 sweeps period as the most-watched early and late local newscasts among Adults ages 18-49, regardless of language.
  • 9 Because Spanish is becoming the second-most important language in politics
    Even candidates vying for political office recognize the fact that many of the nation's citizens speak Spanish, many releasin
    Getty
    Even candidates vying for political office recognize the fact that many of the nation's citizens speak Spanish, many releasing Spanish-language ads in an effort to connect with voters. 
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