Recently I've seen a number of published studies that found benefits to someone being bilingual or benefits in learning a new language. Some benefits recently found in bilinguals (or the "billngual advantage"): more gray matter in the executive control area of the brain, 4 to 5 year delay in onset of Alzheimer's symptoms, processing of information more efficiently and more easily, and young bilingual children are more likely to think that everything is learned (while monolinguals more likely to think things are innate). From Science Daily:
A new study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex suggests people who speak two languages have more gray matter in the executive control region of the brain...Early on, bilingualism was thought to be a disadvantage because the presence of two vocabularies would lead to delayed language development in children. However, it has since been demonstrated that bilingual individuals perform better, compared with monolinguals, on tasks that require attention, inhibition and short-term memory, collectively termed "executive control."
This "bilingual advantage" is believed to come about because of bilinguals' long-term use and management of two spoken languages. But skepticism still remains about whether these advantages are present, as they are not observed in all studies...."Given this concern, we took a different approach and instead compared gray matter volume between adult bilinguals and monolinguals. We reasoned that the experience with two languages and the increased need for cognitive control to use them appropriately would result in brain changes in Spanish-English bilinguals when compared with English-speaking monolinguals. And in fact greater gray matter for bilinguals was observed in frontal and parietal brain regions that are involved in executive control."
Gray matter of the brain has been shown to differ in volume as a function of people's experiences. A prominent finding of this type was a report that London taxi drivers have more gray matter in brain areas involved in spatial navigation.
What about being bilingual leads to these advantages?....The researchers compared gray matter in bilinguals of American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English with monolingual users of English...."Unlike the findings for the Spanish-English bilinguals, we found no evidence for greater gray matter in the ASL-English bilinguals," Olulade says. "Thus we conclude that the management of two spoken languages in the same modality, rather than simply a larger vocabulary, leads to the differences we observed in the Spanish-English bilinguals."
The symptoms of Alzheimer disease (AD) manifest themselves about four to five years later in bilinguals as opposed to monolinguals. In bilinguals, the disease onset was estimated at the age of 77, while in monolinguals, this was at the age of 73.
From Science Daily: Bilingual brains better equipped to process information
Speaking more than one language is good for the brain, according to new research that indicates bilingual speakers process information more efficiently and more easily than those who know a single language. The benefits occur because the bilingual brain is constantly activating both languages and choosing which language to use and which to ignore, said a researcher.
From Science daily: Bilingualism changes children's beliefs
Most young children are essentialists: They believe that human and animal characteristics are innate. That kind of reasoning can lead them to think that traits like native language and clothing preference are intrinsic rather than acquired. But a new study suggests that certain bilingual kids are more likely to understand that it's what one learns, rather than what one is born with, that makes up a person's psychological attributes.
White and gray matter of the human brain. Credit: Medline Plus, US National Library of Medicine