Building Better Brains With Bilingualism

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — There are roughly 6,500 spoken languages spoken throughout the world today.  Every person knows at least one of them, however, many people are fond of learning two or more.  It’s actually recommended these days.  There are numerous benefits of being bilingual such as an improvement in linguistic and meta linguistic abilities as well as betterment of cognitive flexibility such as divergent thinking, concept formation, verbal abilities and general reasoning.

The latest research from Penn State points towards the notion that bilingual speakers can ultimately outperform monolinguals ““ people who speak only one language ““ in certain mental abilities, such as editing out irrelevant information and focusing on important information.  Ultimately, these skills make bilingual individuals better at prioritizing as well as multitasking.

“We would probably refer to most of these cognitive advantages as multi-tasking,” which Judith Kroll, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, director of the Center for Language Science, Penn State, was quoted as saying.  “Bilinguals seem to be better at this type of perspective taking.” Kroll said that these findings contradict earlier conclusions that bilingualism delayed cognitive development.

“The received wisdom was that bilingualism created confusion, especially in children,” adds Kroll.  “The belief was that people who could speak two or more languages had difficulty using either.  The bottom line is that bilingualism is good for you.”
Researchers map out the basis of these improved multi-tasking skills to the way bilinguals mentally negotiate between the languages, a skill referred to by Kroll and colleagues as mental juggling.

Bilinguals can easily slip in and out of both languages when in conversation, often selecting the word or phrase from the language that most clearly expresses their thoughts.  However, fluent bilinguals seldom make the mistake of slipping into another language when they speak with someone who understands only one language.

“The important thing that we have found is that both languages are open for bilinguals; in other words, there are alternatives available in both languages,” Kroll said.  “Even though language choices may be on the tip of their tongue, bilinguals rarely make a wrong choice.”

According to Kroll, this language selection, or code switching, is a type of mental exercise.
“The bilingual is somehow able to negotiate between the competition of the languages,” Kroll said.  “The speculation is that these cognitive skills come from this juggling of languages.”

According to the report, the advantages of bilingualism appear across age groups.  Studies of children who grow up as bilingual speakers signify they are often better at perspective-taking tasks, such as prioritizing, than monolingual children.  Experiments with older bilingual speakers indicate that the enhanced mental skills may protect them from problems associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Researchers use MRIs and electroencephalographs to track how the brain operates when it engages in language juggling.  They also implement eye-movement devices to watch how bilinguals read sentences.  When a person reads, the eyes jump through the sentence, stopping to comprehend certain words or phrases.  These distinctive eye movements can offer researchers clues on the subtle ways bilinguals comprehend language compared to monolinguals.

Kroll noted that the enhanced brain functions of bilinguals do not necessarily make them more intelligent or better learners.  “Bilinguals simply acquire specific types of expertise that help them attend to critical tasks and ignore irrelevant information,” Kroll concludes.

Benefits of Being Bilingual:

You can get a number of benefits of being bilingual in various aspects such as cognitive benefits, curriculum advantages, cultural benefits, employment advantages, communication advantages and tolerance of other languages and cultures.

“¢ Cognitive benefits: The bilingual people can have some specific advantages in thinking. They have two or more words for each idea and object. Hence, a bilingual person can develop a creative thinking and an ability to think more flexibly. The bilinguals are aware about which language should be spoken with which person in a particular situation. Therefore, they are more sensitive to the needs of the listener than the monolingual people. Being bilingual has a positive effect on intellectual growth. It enhances and enriches a person’s mental development. The latest research has proved that the bilinguals are better at IQ tests as compared to the monolinguals.

“¢ Character advantages: The bilinguals are able to switch between different languages and talk to different people in various languages. It increases a sense of self-esteem. Being bilingual creates a powerful link in different people from different countries.

“¢ Curriculum benefits: A bilingual education offers better curriculum results. The bilinguals tend to show a higher performance in examinations and tests. It is associated with thinking benefits of bilingualism. The bilinguals find it quite easy to learn and speak three, four or more languages.

“¢ Communication advantages: The bilinguals enjoy reading and writing in different languages. They can understand and appreciate literatures in various languages. It gives a deeper knowledge of different ideas and traditions. It helps improve the ways of thinking and behaving. The pleasures of reading poetry, novels and magazines as well as the enjoyment of writing to family and friends are doubled for bilinguals. They don’t face difficulties in communication while in a foreign country.

“¢ Cultural advantages: Bilingualism offers an access and exposure to different cultures. Knowledge of different languages offers a treasure of traditional and contemporary sayings, idioms, history and folk stories, music, literature and poetry in different cultures. Due to a wider cultural experience, there is a greater tolerance of differences in creeds and customs.

“¢ Employment benefits: Being bilingual offers potential employment benefits. It offers a wider choice of jobs in various fields. The bilinguals can get prosperous career opportunities in the retail sector, transport, tourism, administration, secretarial work, public relations, marketing and sales, banking and accountancy, translation, law and teaching.

SOURCE: American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington D.C., February 2011