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The Mass Media

Some Little Known Facts about Multi-Lingualism

More people are finding out the advantages of multilingualism



Studies have shown that the effects of knowing a second language have many benefits, notably cognitive and social. Speaking two or more languages on a regular basis from a young age can have a positive effect on the brain. This skill enhances cognitive abilities, which can be interpreted to mean many things, such as problem solving, human interactions, and overall thinking abilities. Speaking a second language, or being bilingual, has also been found to delay symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

As someone who was raised speaking a second language with many friends who did the same, bilingualism was something I took for granted. It was all around me: Greek, Spanish, Chinese, Lebanese Arabic, Italian and Albanian. I thought nothing of the ability until I reached middle school and had to learn a third language. So much for taking French classes.

On the subject of bilingual brains, Ellen Bialystok of York University in Toronto, Canada, said,  ”Being able to use two languages and never knowing which one you’re going to use right now rewires your brain.”

As a cognitive neuroscientist studying bilingualism and its effects on the brain, Bialystok’s research shows that regularly speaking a second or third language from a young age can have a positive effect on the brain.

This is great news for those who learned a second language early on.  

“The attentional executive system which is crucial for all higher thought—it’s the most important cognitive piece in how we think—that system seems to be enhanced,” she noted.

I have experienced this occurrence and it seems to help in circumstances when introduced to different ideas, especially in college. Not to say that those who know only one language do not have the same cognitive abilities as someone who knows five, but it’s enough to say that information is interpreted differently.

“Executive functioning gives humans the ability to keep a goal in mind, take actions, and to ignore other information that might distract from their goal,” said Albert Costa, who studies bilingualism at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain. “The question is: Would it be the case that bilinguals, by the constant need for controlling the two languages, develop a more efficient executive functioning system?” he said. “The results suggest that bilinguals may have this positive collateral effect.”

I’m always on the upkeep of my two languages. It can be quite the process. As I am learning more in one language, I have a hard time interpreting the new information in the second one. What I seem to run into a lot is that the Arabic language does not have the same words as the English language does. Different sayings push me to alway think of a different way to say things.

A drawback of knowing a second language is that it causes a “tip-of-the-tongue” phenomenon, where the person is unable to retrieve a word from memory but can recall one or more features of the word, like the first letter, meaning of the word, or stresses of the syllables. This is a minor side effect, if it could be called that, and can be frustrating.

On a side note, even though the foreign language requirements of universities might seem like a major pain, some of the effects are considerably beneficial.