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Author Topic: Interesting article on Bilinguals!  (Read 3875 times)
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Skylark
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« on: March 19, 2012, 08:01:58 PM »

Why Bilinguals Are Smarter

By Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, NY Times, March 17, 2012
SPEAKING two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.

This view of bilingualism is remarkably different from the understanding of bilingualism through much of the 20th century. Researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child’s academic and intellectual development.

They were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn’t so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.

The collective evidence from a number of studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function—a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind—like remembering a sequence of directions while driving.

“Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often—you may talk to your father in one language and to your mother in another language,” says Albert Costa, a researcher at the University of Pompea Fabra in Spain. “It requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving.” In a study comparing German-Italian bilinguals with Italian monolinguals on monitoring tasks, Mr. Costa and his colleagues found that the bilingual subjects not only performed better, but they also did so with less activity in parts of the brain involved in monitoring, indicating that they were more efficient at it.

The bilingual experience appears to influence the brain from infancy to old age (and there is reason to believe that it may also apply to those who learn a second language later in life).

In a recent study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals, scientists led by the neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego, found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism—measured through a comparative evaluation of proficiency in each language—were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.

Nobody ever doubted the power of language. But who would have imagined that the words we hear and the sentences we speak might be leaving such a deep imprint?

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« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2012, 06:34:04 PM »

I'm so glad to know there is a reason for Spanish subjunctive verbs.. here I thought that they were making me go crazy, but they are actually to avoid that very thing  smile

It's a small study group but does give some credence to the anecdotal evidence around us. I didn't learn a second langauge till adulthood but I'm aware that my brain now thinks differently, I see patterns much more easily, whether in maths or even English grammar, which is my first language (e.g. pronoun + have + past participle etc.)



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« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2012, 05:20:07 AM »

Thanks Skylark for posting the article. I'm having problems convincing my husband to speak german to our LO after birth. He speaks it at a 15yr old level due to immigrating to Australia at around that time. He thinks it will be too difficult for him to do. He still uses his german sometimes when speaking to his mum (who stuggles with english from time to time) and to friends and relatives from Europe. He has friends where the husband speaks swiss german and the wife spanish to their kids. The children are very intelligent, speaking english to us like other children their age.

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« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2012, 04:28:02 PM »

This is a great article. It's nice to see topics of interest to us being picked up by organizations such as NY times.

JainaRei: To your husband (and to many others in this situation) I would say, to not focus on the end goal of having a completely fluent, bilingual child. But to focus on the day to day, speaking German at a 15yo level is certainly enough to set the fundamentals for a young child. I believe in taking it one day at a time, and NOT focusing on perfection. Sometimes, our quest to have everything perfect before we begin something is exactly what leads us to inaction. The key is to get the child started, open their brain up to it. After you've opened that door, it will be natural for more learning to come through.

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