FOR years, researchers in bilingualism have been touting striking findings about how bilingualism affects the brain. Two of the most memorable involve “executive control” and delayed dementia. With the first, bilinguals have shown that they are better able to focus on demanding mental tasks despite distractions. In other studies, it has been estimated that bilinguals see the onset of dementia, on average, about five years later than monolinguals do.

This week comes new evidence* for the pile: researchers led by Roberto Filippi of Anglia Ruskin University have found that young bilingual pupils did a better job answering tricky questions with a noisy voice in the background than a monolingual control group did. The study was small (just 40 pupils, only 20 in each group). But its robustness is helped by the diversity of the bilinguals, who spoke Italian, Spanish, Bengali, Polish, Russian and others in addition to English. The experimenters tried to distract the pupils with random unrelated recordings in English (which all the pupils spoke) and Greek (which none of them did). The bilinguals did significantly better at ignoring the Greek distraction. (They did just a bit better with the English one.)

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