Does Being Bilingual Make You Smarter?


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           I have always wanted to learn how to speak another language.  My parents raised me to speak English but once I began taking Spanish classes in school, I became very interested in learning how to become a fluent Spanish speaker.  I am a student in the College of Communications and I am minoring in Spanish so being proficient in another language would definitely help me in the future with getting jobs since so many businesses are now going global.  However, would being bilingual help me in other ways too? Does it make you smarter?

            An article in the New York Times, published in 2012, states that being bilingual increases brain function.  It explains how many studies have concluded that being bilingual advances, "executive function -- a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind."  They later summarized this by saying that bilinguals are better at analyzing their environment than monolinguals.

         

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   The article mentions a study that was done in 2009 by Agnes Kovacs of the International School for Advanced Studies in Triest, Italy.  In this study, Kovacs monitored 7-month-old babies that were exposed to two languages and he monitored 7-month-old babies that were only exposed to one language.  In this study, "both monolinguals and bilinguals learned to respond to a speech or visual cue to anticipate a reward on one side of a screen, only bilinguals succeeded in redirecting their anticipatory looks when the cue began signaling the reward on the opposite side. Bilingual infants rapidly suppressed their looks to the first location and learned the new response. These findings show that processing representations from 2 languages leads to a domain-general enhancement of the cognitive control system well before the onset of speech."

            I personally feel that this study shows strong evidence that being bilingual can in some way improve one's cognitive function.  However, there is room for error in this study.  Some of the 7-month-old babies that were monolingual could have already had some sort of learning disability that the scientists and/or parents were not aware of at that time.  This observational study allowed the scientists to compare monolinguals to bilinguals.  However, bilinguals could also have better cognitive function than monolinguals for a completely different reason or due to chance.  However, this study shows a direct correlation between cognitive function and being bilingual. I also feel as though, with the question that I am asking, it all depends on how an individual defines the word "smart" whether it be someone who is smart analytically or someone who is what I like to call "fact smart" or someone who is really good at school.  This study provides evidence that being bilingual improves your ability to analyze situations more quickly but it did not mention anything about figuring out factual related concepts.          

4 Comments

I deinitely agree with the first couple points you were making in your blog. I can see why being bilingual can help a person use certain parts of their brain to problem solve or pay attention better. When being bilingual, an individual needs to transfer back and forth which language they need to be recieving or talking in. I always wished I spoke two laungages for many different reasons. Now hearing it improves intelligence, I really wish I did!
Here is an article:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-benefits-of-bilingualism.html?_r=0

I really liked your post. I took three different languages in high school (4 years of Spanish, 3 years of French, and 1 of Italian) so this post was particularly interesting for me. My French teacher always said that they shouldn't start kids on languages in high school, but when they are a lot younger because that's when the language part of your brain is developing. It's easier for younger kids to pick up languages than preteens and teenagers. I wish my parents would've started me on learning languages when I was really young, especially now that I know that it actually makes you smarter. Here's an article I found about whether or not students should be started on languages earlier in life: http://www.actfl.org/advocacy/discover-languages/for-parents/cognitive

This is a great post! I took french all throughout high school and the first year here at Penn State and surprisingly I still don't know much french. But I always wondered if I would do better in school if I was fluent in french. I agree that being bilingual can help you with cognitive processes. I'm taking psych this year and in class we talked about the part of the brain that allows you to know two languages and it means that you have enough capacity to know two languages and enough capacity to know other important information. This is a great website that talks about bilingualism, language and cognition >>> http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayBackIssues?jid=BIL

I can speak 6 languages. This includes English, French and 4 other Indian languages (just to make it clear, those are languages and not dialects. We know the difference between dialects and languages). Out of all these languages English and the indian languages were the ones I grew up around and am more comfortable with them than i will ever be with French. I learnt French in high school and I will probably never be as good at it as I am at others. SO i completely agree that languages should be taught at a early age when the brain is still in its formative stages. This statement here puts it extremely well why its beneficial to learn multiple languages: 'Different languages represent the world differently. For instance, in Italian there are two colours corresponding to the English blue: celeste is light (literally: sky-coloured) blue, and blu is dark blue, similar to the distinction between pink and red. So when an English speaker learns Italian he must learn to think about colours differently in order to use the correct word.' http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-10-languages-smarter.html

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