Multilingualism, Cognitive ability

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Summary

Multilingualism is the use of two or more languages, either by an individual speaker or by a community of speakers. Multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world's population. Multilingualism is becoming a social phenomenon governed by the needs of globalization and cultural openness. Owing to the ease of access to information facilitated by the Internet, individuals' exposure to multiple languages is becoming increasingly frequent thereby promoting a need to acquire additional languages.

Details

Bilinguals who are highly proficient in two or more languages are reported to have enhanced executive function and are better at some aspects of language learning compared to monolinguals. Research indicates that a multilingual brain is nimbler, quicker, better able to deal with ambiguities, resolve conflicts, and resist Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia longer.

There is also a phenomenon known as distractive bilingualism or semilingualism. When acquisition of the first language is interrupted and insufficient or unstructured language input follows from the second language, as sometimes happens with immigrant children, the speaker can end up with two languages both mastered below the monolingual standard. Literacy plays an important role in the development of language in these immigrant children. Those who were literate in their first language before arriving, and who have support to maintain that literacy, are at the very least able to maintain and master their first language.

There is, of course, a difference between those who learn a language in a class environment, and those who learn through total immersion, usually living in the country where the target language is the exclusive.

Without the possibility to actively translate, due to a complete lack of any first language communication opportunity, the comparison between languages is reduced. The new language is almost independently learned - like the mother tongue for a child - with direct concept-to-language translation that can become more natural than word structures learned as a subject. Added to this, the uninterrupted, immediate and exclusive practise of the new language reinforces and deepens the attained knowledge.

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External Links

  • WikipediaESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice

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