The rise of the internet and social media has fostered a new wave of connectivity and social engagement. Contrary to old times when we only mingle and engage with people who lived nearby, we have now friends across the globe living a completely different life. Connections build with communication and language is the soul of communication, we communicate our views, feelings, and thoughts in the form of language expressions. The language we use – defines our culture, nationality and pretty much make sense of everything happening around us. Hence bilingualism is now a norm of 21st century highly connected world; every day more & more people are drawn towards learning and speaking two languages aka becoming bilinguals. But what is this phenomenon and what are its benefits? So let’s dig a bit deeper into understanding the term and its competitive advantages.
What is Bilingualism?
There is no one set statement to define Bilingualism as each definition differs on the basis of learning period and language proficiency. Hence to simplify the understanding, the researchers have coined down a functional definition that says “a person who uses two languages to communicate in his/her daily life is called Bilingual and the process as whole stands for Bilingualism”. But it’s important to understand that bilingualism doesn’t demand an individual to be equally fluent in both of the languages instead a person can be fully proficient in one and lesser proficient in another – as Francois Grosjean said in his book Bilingual: Life & Reality. Hundred & thousands of surveyed people in the United States, UK & Europe speak their mother tongue at their homes and another official language at their office settings. As stated in the report (The Associated Press 2001); 66% percent of the world’s population is bilingual from their childhood.
A dual-language speaker is considered a valuable asset in the world of work; increasing globalization among industries demands workers to be proficient in more than one language. More than that bilinguals are walking diversity advocate – promoting & practicing cultural, language and race diversification and inclusion; hence being loved and admire my everyone. With all the social & cultural perks, bilinguals are amazingly talented in self-management due to their enhanced cognitive skills set. Knowledge and understanding with two languages have some impressive effects on their cognitive functionality of the brain, thus making a bilingual kid better acquainted with environmental changes, multiple tasking, attention to details, impulse controlling and many other aspects that requires focus and patience. Moving on with this article we are going to dissect in detail about the multiple cognitive advantages of being bilingual.
Major breakthroughs in technology have enabled researchers & scientist to analyze the impacts of bilingualism over brain functionality and enhanced cognitive ability.
Cognitive Advantages of Bilingualism
Think in two languages simultaneously
Bilingual’s brains are wired to think in two languages hence when they use one language for the conversation the other language activates automatically. The constant switching between two languages let their minds to generate numerous outcomes of one word in different languages as compared to monolinguals. As a research states that when a Russian – English bilingual was asked to “pick up a marker” among other items so he looks for a ‘stamp’ because the work marker sounded pretty much similar to the word “marka” in Russian which means stamp. Whether you ask a bilingual to think in either languages or not, the process of language co-activation is very much unconscious & quick – it can even activate for the words that different in sound & pronunciation. According to a research based in China, a Chinese-English bilingual is given a set of English synonym words, in the same time when they were processing English words; their minds unconsciously correlate the words in their mother tongue i.e. Chinese, even they are not asked to do it.
Have a good control over their speech and hearing
A continuous competition between the two languages in a bilingual mind enhanced the control mechanism of the brain. Due to which, a bilingual person uses a great deal of attention in speaking & listening and inhibits unnecessary words. With respect to communication, it is an important & effective trait of an individual and its continued practice nourished the control mechanism.
Juggle between different Tasks
According to a research by Anat Prior and Brian Macwhinney, due to the constant juggle between the languages bilinguals show a swift response in switching task as compared to monolinguals. Bilinguals could easily shift their mental state from one task to another without any confusion or complication.
Managing conflicts like Pro
As discussed above, along with enhanced control mechanism bilinguals also have enhanced inhibitory controls that help them to eliminate irrelevant information and focuses on the required one. This enhanced feature of the brain helps in managing the conflict inducing task that requires executive attention. This could be defined with the experiment of Stroop Task, where people are asked to name the color the words are written in, despite reading the word. For example, the word “Yellow” is written in color blue, a bilingual mind is able to get over the conflict with the help inhibiting the unnecessary information that is word Yellow itself and process the relevant that is color blue. Moreover, in a study it’s proven through Attentional Network Task (ANT) that bilinguals are relatively fast and efficient in processing information, attentive to details, switching between tasks and conflict management as compared to monolinguals. Hence bilinguals use lesser energy and focus in juggling between tasks, making them highly susceptible to change and focused towards even minute details.
Better at Performing Task at Hand
As compare to monolinguals, bilinguals perform better in the task at hand due to their efficient working memory – a brain function that store and process temporary stimulus in order to complete the given task at any given moment. The studies suggest that the reason behind bilingual’s better working memory lies in the process of learning & understanding two different languages. Due to the constant comparison and new learning, bilinguals developed immense remembering approach that results in highly developed executive skills; helping them stay focused and determine on the given task.
In a nutshell, bilinguals go through the extensive process of unlearning, learning and re-learning to fulfill their needs of transitioning into the second language. The process requires tremendous attention, focus, remembering, and analyses which enhance the cognitive activity of the brain from basic to executive. Hence bilinguals have an extensive information processing brain that adds the efficient feature in their daily living too. Bilinguals acquaintance with two different languages gives them an opportunity to understand & create words corresponding to different languages, for example, the Japanese language has 100s of variant for the word “I” with respect to gender and age. Such cognitive abilities lead to viewing a new and different world altogether – making bilinguals smarter & creative. In addition to this, a study by Tamar Gollan a neuropsychologist of the University of California found that the elderly individuals with strong proficiency in more than one language were greatly repellent towards the onset of brain degenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimers.