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About half of the world’s population uses a second language in their daily lives. Some areas of the world, such as Switzerland and Singapore, are bilingual hot spots where virtually everyone speaks two or more languages. However, even in America’s largest cities, there are sizable populations that speak a language other than English with family and friends.

The naïve view is that a bilingual is a person who speaks two languages with native-like fluency. However, this kind of “balanced” bilingual is rare. In the vast majority of cases, bilinguals have a dominant native tongue and a second language they can speak with some effort. These are the kind of bilinguals that Spanish psychologist Albert Costa and his colleagues reported on in a recent article in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Costa and colleagues work in Barcelona, another bilingual hot spot where many people speak both Spanish and Catalan. The team was interested in finding out if speaking a second language affected people’s abilities to make decisions. You might think that because speaking a second language is so effortful, their