We can get some sense of how prevalent multilingualism may have been from the few hunter-gatherer peoples who survive today.
In Aboriginal Australia, where more than indigenous languages are still spoken, multilingualism is part of the landscape. Then, pass through Loewen, where the announcements will be in Dutch first, and then in Brussels it reverts back to French first. Being so bound up with identity, language is also deeply political.
The emergence of European nation states and the growth of imperialism during the 19th century meant it was regarded as disloyal to speak anything other than the one national language. This perhaps contributed to the widely held opinion — particularly in Britain and the US — that bringing up children to be bilingual was harmful to their health and to society more generally.
There were warnings that bilingual children would be confused by two languages, have lower intelligence, low self-esteem, behave in deviant ways, develop a split personality and even become schizophrenic. It is a view that persisted until very recently, discouraging many immigrant parents from using their own mother tongue to speak to their children, for instance. However, research in the last decade by neurologists, psychologists and linguists, using the latest brain-imaging tools, is revealing a swathe of cognitive benefits for bilinguals.
Ask me in English what my favourite food is, and I will picture myself in London choosing from the options I enjoy there. This idea that you gain a new personality with every language you speak, that you act differently when speaking different languages, is a profound one. In one experiment, English and German speakers were shown videos of people moving, such as a woman walking towards her car or a man cycling to the supermarket. Part of this is due to the grammatical toolkit available, Athanasopoulos explains.
Unlike German, English has the -ing ending to describe actions that are ongoing.
Teaching Kids a Second Language: Can It Cause a Speech Delay?
This makes English speakers much less likely than German speakers to assign a goal to an action when describing an ambiguous scene. When he tested English—German bilinguals, however, whether they were action- or goal-focused depended on which country they were tested in. In the s, one of the pioneers of psycholinguistics, Susan Ervin-Tripp, tested Japanese—English bilingual women, asking them to finish sentences in each language.
These different mindsets are continually in conflict, however, as bilingual brains sort out which language to use. In a revealing experiment with his English—German bilingual group, Athanasopoulos got them to recite strings of numbers out loud in either German or English. So, if they recited numbers in German, their responses to the videos were more typically German and goal-focused.
When the number recitation was switched to the other language midway, their video responses also switched. Are there really two separate minds in a bilingual brain? In order to assess the effect that trying to understand the Syntaflake language had on my brain, I took another test before and after the snowflake task.
Sometimes the surrounding pattern of arrows was confusing, so by the end of the first session my shoulders had been hunched somewhere near my ears and I was exhausted from concentrating. How can that be? I had to block out my impulse and heed the rule instead. The aim is to say which colour each word is written in, but this is tricky, because we read the word much quicker than we process the colour of the letters. The snowflake test prepared my ACC for the second flanker task, just as speaking more than one language seems to train the executive system more generally.
In fact, says cognitive neuropsychologist Jubin Abutalebi, at the University of San Raffaele in Milan, it is possible to distinguish bilingual people from monolinguals simply by looking at scans of their brains. The ACC is like a cognitive muscle, he adds: the more you use it, the stronger, bigger and more flexible it gets. Bilinguals, it turns out, exercise their executive control all the time because their two languages are constantly competing for attention. Not only that, but their mind is always making a judgement about when and how to use the target language.
Can talking two languages keep your brain healthy?
For example, bilinguals rarely get confused between languages, but they may introduce the odd word or sentence of the other language if the person they are talking to also knows it. A superior ability to concentrate, solve problems and focus, better mental flexibility and multitasking skills are, of course, valuable in everyday life.
But perhaps the most exciting benefit of bilingualism occurs in ageing, when executive function typically declines: bilingualism seems to protect against dementia. Psycholinguist Ellen Bialystok made the surprising discovery at York University in Toronto while she was comparing an ageing population of monolinguals and bilinguals. What is the financial value of being bilingual? It means that as parts of the brain succumb to damage, bilinguals can compensate more because they have extra grey matter and alternative neural pathways. Bilingualism can also offer protection after brain injury.
Such results suggest bilingualism helps keep us mentally fit. It may even be an advantage that evolution has positively selected for in our brains — an idea supported by the ease with which we learn new languages and flip between them, and by the pervasiveness of bilingualism throughout world history. Just as we need to do physical exercise to maintain the health of bodies that evolved for a physically active hunter-gatherer lifestyle, perhaps we ought to start doing more cognitive exercises to maintain our mental health, especially if we only speak one language.
In recent years, there has been a backlash against the studies showing benefits from bilingualism. He says the detractors have made errors in their experimental methods. His study is not yet complete, but other research has shown that these benefits of learning a language can be achieved quickly. The problem is, they disappear again unless they are used — and I am unlikely to use the made-up snowflake language ever again!
So how can this knowledge be applied in practice? One option is to teach children in different languages. In many parts of the world, this is already being done: many Indian children, for example, will use a different language in school from their mother or village tongue. But in English-speaking nations, it is rare. Nevertheless, there is a growing movement towards so-called immersion schooling, in which children are taught in another language half the time.
The state of Utah has been pioneering the idea, with many of its schools now offering immersion in Mandarin Chinese or Spanish. They are better at concentrating, focusing and have a lot more self-esteem. Anytime you understand another language, you understand your language and culture better. It is economically and socially beneficial.
We need to get over our affliction with monolingualism. The immersion approach is being trialled in the UK now, too. At Bohunt secondary school in Liphook, Hampshire, head teacher Neil Strowger has introduced Chinese-language immersion for a few lessons. I sit in on an art class with year-olds being taught by two teachers: one speaking English, the other Chinese. The children are engaged but quiet, concentrating on the task of learning multiple ideas. When they speak it is often in Chinese — and there is something rather surreal about watching young people in the UK discussing British graffiti artist Banksy in Mandarin.
What about those of us who have left school? In order to maintain the benefits of bilingualism, you need to use your languages and that can be tricky, especially for older people who may not have many opportunities to practise. Perhaps we need language clubs, where people can meet to speak other languages. Bak has done a small pilot study with elderly people learning Gaelic in Scotland and seen significant benefits after just one week. Now he aims to carry out a much larger trial. It is never too late to learn another tongue, and it can be very rewarding.
It takes three years for a baby to learn a language, but just months for an adult. Being bilingual could keep our minds working longer and better into old age, which could have a massive impact on how we school our children and treat older people. A lot of what we do, we do without thinking about it. When we concentrate, that's exercising our executive function, as explained by this extract based on Open University Child Development course material.
If a stroke is suspected, you need to act FAST. Here's why - and what you should do. Mylaphotography Dreamstime. We invite you to discuss this subject, but remember this is a public forum. At first, this finding is unexpected, since rational thinking itself is more effortful than intuitive thinking. Generally speaking, when we try to engage in two effortful tasks at the same time, we perform poorly at both.
Rather, what makes rational thought or a second language difficult is the constant need to inhibit ingrained patterns of behavior. When we speak a second language, we need to inhibit our native language. And when we think rationally, we need to inhibit our natural intuitions. Brain imaging research shows that the same areas of the brain — mainly in the prefrontal cortex — are activated both in second-language use and in rational thought.
Costa, A. On language processing shaping decision making. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26, So you're saying that when I think about investing or my investments, I should ask myself questions about them in my second language. This blog was Finally I've found something which helped me.
Thanks a lot! The 'fat man on the bridge' scenario also needs to specify that there would be no negative legal consequences for pushing him off. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! I don't know why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting similar RSS problems? Anybody who knows the solution can you kindly respond? I was wondering if you ever considered changing the page layout of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 pictures. Maybe you could space it out better? This is old research. Your bibliographic citation of is probably a result of a reprint in some research anthology. Maybe true for people who speak a "2nd language" that takes more effort. But I speak 3 languages English being my 3rd and most recently acquired language without requiring "effort". Saying the same thing in another language feels about like simply "rewording" a sentence, like saying "Let's thank the waiter" instead of "We should express our gratitude to the server", though it does seem to come from slightly different parts of the brain because I never mix up words from different languages in the same sentence.
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The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals
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