Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Another Reason to Be Bilingual: Provided You Use It, You Don't "Lose It" as Fast

It's official: being a bilingual who uses both his or her languages regularly means you're less likely "to lose it" mentally. Or rather, research by York University's Ellen Bialystok and colleagues shows that Alzeheimer's disease manifests itself far later in bilinguals than in monolinguals. What's more, being bilingual appears to give an advantage in multi-tasking. The team put bilinguals and monolinguals in a driving simulator and then gave them instructions through headphones. Everyone's driving deteriorated, but the bilinguals' much less than monolinguals'.

Dr. Bialystok explains that the brain has an executive control system, a sort of hardwired "general manager. Its job is to keep you focused on what is relevant, while ignoring distractions." In bilinguals it is more developed.

I've always thought that growing up bilingual was an advantage. I didn't, and I had to struggle to learn French as an adult. Lee and I were pleased when her parents decided to speak exclusively to our little Jeanne in French, and told us that we were to be the English connection. As early as six months, it was clear that she could tell the difference between the languages. She always took a moment to consider what I was saying before she reacted, and she didn't babble at me nearly as much as she did to her parents. Now she looks a little puzzled when I talk to Elin in English, as if she's trying to sort out the sounds systems.

Bilingual children frequently appear a little slower in language development. When Lukas was being followed up after having meningitis as a baby, we were told that tests standardized on monolingual children wouldn't be reliable in determining whether he was developing normally since he was picking up English and French simultaneously. (The disease left no problems, BTW, unless you consider getting a Ph.D in philosophy, as he is doing now, as a form of pathology.)

Lee and I acquired our second languages as adults, but we use both of them all the time. It's nice to think that all the effort might have the added benefit of keeping us sharp longer.

Photo: Jeanne, taken by a friend of the family a few weeks ago.

1 comment:

patricia said...

I'm sorry, but Jeanne's picture is wiping everything else. I can't believe how much she has changed in two months. But she's still adorably lovely.

Bilingual or trilingual children may appear slower in language development, but they are actually learning 2 or 3 languages simultaneously. Takes a little more time, no?