Why Bilinguals Are Smarter…

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.

Bilinguals, for instance, seem to be more adept than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles. In a 2004 study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins — one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle.

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2 Responses to “Why Bilinguals Are Smarter…

  • you have got a really useful blog i have been here reading for about an hour. i am a newbie and your success is very much an inspiration for me.

    • Christof, thank you for the interesting posntig! Raising bilingual kids is rewarding on a long run. My daughter came to Sydney 3 years ago at the age of 6 and started her English-Chinese bilingual overseas life. Before she came here, she just finished Kindy in China and knew some very simple Chinese characters, Pinyin system and easy English words of fruits. I have been very strict with her bilingual learning, especially Chinese, which made both of us suffered at the beginning. I don’t worry about her English at all but I keep telling her that she can’t study in China if her Chinese is not good. Learning Chinese and Math textbooks everyday after school has been family routine. She is now quite interested in both languages. She has got awareness of comparing the words and expressions of Chinese and English. She tries to pronounce English in OZ and UK accent! She once told me she wanted to learn French, Japanese and Korean because English is NOT ENOUGH for her to be an international kid!

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