The Economist, one of the most internationally prestigious weekly journal, and The Local, a digital newspaper aimed at English speakers who reside in Spain, publish two articles on the benefits of being bilingual. Both journalistic houses, taking the publications of the research team I+DEL from the Balearic Islands University (UIB) as reference, reflect on the term bilingual advantage.
In the scientific community we still find ambiguous results in relation to the existence of the so-called bilingual advantage. This term refers to the non-linguistic benefits that derive from the ability of speaking more than one language. The confusion throughout researchers has as its main origin the fact that language is a fluid capacity that is affected by a great variety of factors. In order to control for the influence of such factors, and prove the existence of the bilingual advantage, the team I+DEL used three criterion in their research: age of acquisition of the second language, the fluency level on the two tongues and the frequency of change between them. Their results suggest that the frequency of change is the variable that best relates to the cognitive benefits to which bilingual advantage refers to. In other words, the frequency in which speakers switch voluntarily from one language to the other is what enhances performance in the cognitive abilities that allow us to conduct complex tasks (attention, working memory inhibition of non-relevant information…). Thus, it seems that the phenomenon of bilingual advantage is not explained by the quantity of languages one can speak, but rather its use in daily life.