Bilingualism, the Brain and Society

Does speaking two languages enrich the brain? How do class and race influence the labeling of bilingualism as good or bad? Join us to explore the neuroscience and social context of bilingualism.

Event Description:

For many stuck in Covid lockdowns, learning a new language offered respite from the madness — and possibly gave their brains a boost. Studies find that actively speaking two languages later in life may help to delay the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia. Research also suggests that children who grow up using two languages do better on standardized tests than their monolingual peers.

But in many places bilingualism is not always valued. In the United States, for example, white, affluent English speakers are often encouraged to learn a second language, yet many people in poor, minority or indigenous communities are actively discouraged from speaking anything other than English. Join us for a discussion with two leading experts on bilingualism’s role in cognition and how speaking multiple languages may be lauded or frowned on depending on the societal context.

Tune in to learn more and get your questions answered.


Uju Anya, Carnegie Mellon University

Dr. Uju Anya specializes in new language learning, multilingualism and developing holistic curricula for language teachers. Her research spans applied linguistics, critical sociolinguistics, and critical discourse studies, and examines race, gender, sexual and social class identities through new language learning experiences. Dr. Anya’s book, “Racialized Identities in Second Language Learning: Speaking Blackness In Brazil,” examines how students shape and negotiate different identities in multilingual contexts, and was recognized with the 2019 American Association for Applied Linguistics First Book Award as outstanding work that makes an exceptional contribution to the field.

Judith Kroll, UC Irvine

Dr. Judith Kroll’s research focuses on the cognitive processes that support the acquisition and proficient use of a second language. This includes using behavioral and neuroscience methods to investigate how bilingual speakers speak in one language at a time, how adult second-language learners acquire new vocabulary, and how speaking two languages may benefit cognition. Dr. Kroll will be launching and codirecting the UC Irvine branch of Bilingualism Matters, which does community outreach, shares science with the public, debunks myths about bilingualism and creates a bidirectional bridge between the community of bilingual speakers and learners and researchers. 


Rachel Ehrenberg, Associate Editor, Knowable Magazine

Rachel has been covering science for nearly 20 years, often with an emphasis on the intersection of research and society. She has a master’s degree in evolutionary biology from the University of Michigan and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 2013-14, she was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT.

Annual Reviews articles, authored by speakers:

Bilingualism, Mind, and Brain

Judith F. Kroll, Paola E. Dussias, Kinsey Bice and Lauren Perrotti

Knowable Articles:

How a second language can boost the brain

Kids in the middle: recognizing the important role of children as cultural translators

Why speech is a human innovation

Out of the mouth of babes

The fragile state of contact languages

Speaking in whistles

Other online resources

CUNY-NYS Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals

Bilingualism Matters

This event is part of Reset: The Science of Crisis & Recovery, an ongoing series of live events and science journalism exploring how the world is navigating the coronavirus pandemic, its consequences and the way forward. Reset is supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. 

Knowable Magazine is a product of Annual Reviews, a nonprofit publisher dedicated to synthesizing and integrating knowledge for the progress of science and the benefit of society. Major funding for Knowable comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.