Bilingualism – Reap the Benefits!
Bilingualism helps in improving prioritizing and multitasking skills, and helps in keeping the early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease at bay, according to health experts. The burning question of the hour is – Does bilingual gives young children a mental edge, or it simply delays the process of learning? The answer depends on who you ask.
Some educationists and academicians regard bilingual education as a half-baked and unproductive technique of teaching students whose mother tongue is not English. Even though it takes several forms, bilingual education programs generally involve teaching students both in English and their native languages. How much the native language is used, and in which academic context, differs in each bilingual education program.
Bilingualism – The Positive Effects!
Many neuroscience researchers are now agreeing to the fact that bilingualism has several positive effects on the brain. These researchers presented their study findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Washington D.C. Their study findings include:
- Bilingualism helps to ward off the early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly people.
- Adults equipped with linguistic skills who speak more languages prioritize information much better in potentially confounding situations.
- Children who can speak more than one language are much more effective at multi-tasking.
Dual Role Play – Science Behind it!
These mental health benefits come from the fact that the brain constantly juggles between two – or more – languages, as told by Ellen Bialystok. She is a psychology professor at York University, Toronto. For example, an individual who speaks both Bengali and Hindi can’t turn Bengali off even if he or she is speaking to only Hindi users. The reason behind is that the brain is constantly analysing which language is more appropriate for a given situation.
This constant juggle between two linguistic systems translates into frequent exercise for the brain’s executive control functions. These functions are located in the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain decides focusing one’s attention, ignoring disturbances and distractions, and keeping relevant pieces of information in mind while solving problem.
Stroop Test – The Brain’s Prowess
Scientists implement Stroop test to test a person’s ability to identify relevant nuggets while being exposed to extraneous information. The participants are presented with a word for a specific colour and they are asked to identify the specific colour of ink in which the word is printed.
For example, if the word is “red” and it is printed in red, then it’s not a problem. On the contrary, if the word “red” is printed in blue, the participants have to analyse which piece of information – the colour being spelled out, or the colour of the ink – is the correct answer.
Bialystok says that it is extremely difficult to do, as it is hard to block out the information from the word. The Stroop test adds nearly 240 milliseconds to the reaction time in monolingual speakers. This is a significant delay in their reflex reaction. On the other hand, bilingual people only take 160 additional milliseconds to process the information and correctly answer. This happens because they are adept in prioritizing information in confusing situations.
Bilingualism – The Conclusion
Bilingual speaker hardly uses the incorrect language with a monolingual person. However, if the listener also understands both the languages, then the speaker can easily switch between the two languages to most effectively express his or her thoughts.
According to Judith Kroll, a psychology professor at Pennysylvania State University, when a bilingual person starts to speak, then his or her brain inhibits one language while using the other. This trend is more noticeable when the person chooses the weaker language rather than the dominant language.
This adaptability to swiftly block the irrelevant language (momentarily) is a mental exercise which enhances the executive control functions of the bilingual person’s brain. Hence, bilingualism keeps the brain more nimble, which allows bilingual people to do better multi-tasking, select key, relevant information faster and effectively stay aloof of the surrounding distractions.