Being bilingual 有很多好處

The other day I found an interesting interview with Professor Laura-Ann Petitto, a cognitive neuroscientist who has spent the past 29 years seeking to uncover the biological and environmental factors that affect how humans acquire language and how language is organized in the brain. The main aim of her research is the find the biological foundations of language.

She found that the language development of children who grow up bilingually or multilingual is not delayed when compared with monolingual children, as a popular belief suggests. That bilingual and multilingual children do mix languages, just as adults do, and that they do so in a highly principled way. Language mixing is mainly a social phenomenon and the amount of language mixing among children reflects mixing behaviour among adults in their community.

She also studied the optimum time to expose children to two or more languages, comparing groups of children who were exposed to multiply languages at different ages. Some were raised bilingually from birth, others from the ages of three, five, etc. She found that up to nine years old, children immersed in a bilingual environment can become equally fluent in both languages. However if such children are only exposed to one of the languages in school, their ability in that language is much reduced.

Other interesting bits from the interview include the finding that “young children who have rich and early exposure to two languages are […] cognitively more advanced than their monolingual peers on certain highly sophisticated cognitive tasks to do with attention and abstract reasoning.” Also that those children exposed to two languages after the age of nine or so will eventually learn them, but will probably never speak them as well as the early starters.

This entry was posted in Language, Language acquisition.

7 Responses to Being bilingual 有很多好處

  1. harris engelmann says:

    It’s very interesting for me to read such an article, especially considering i’m a teenager who is attempting to become bilingual in English and Yiddish. I had a bilingual hebrew-english kindergarten, and I remember knowing hebrew quite well. When first grade came around, however, i went to public school; from then on, i have lost almost of my ability to speak the language. Although it is struggle to learn a language that has almost no native speakers outside of perhaps new york and israel, neverthless i will perservere.

    ba mir iz aza artikl bfrat tshikave, vayle ikh bin a tsendling vilkher pruvt zikh tsu lernen yidish. kh’hob gelernt zikh in a tsveyshprakhik ivris un english kindergortn, un ikh gedenk ven kh’hob yisroelish zeyer gut gekent. Ober, gekumen iz der ershter klasse, un hob ikh zikh bateylikt in a “publik” shile. fun demolt on, hob ikh fergesn kimat ale mayn yisroelish, khotsh ikh ken iktlikhe loshn-koydesh. s’iz take a kamf far mir zikh tsu lernen vilker s’rov zayne reders voynen tsi in nyu-york, tsi in yisroel, vilkher zaynen bayde lange nesies fun mir. fundestvegn,vel ikh onhaltn, un vel ikh hobn hatslokhe!

  2. harris engelmann says:

    a korektsye af der yidish:

    af der finfter shure, zol es shteyn “far mir zikh tsu lernen a loshn vilkher…”

  3. James says:

    I would love not to believe in the critical period, but am not sure just how far that hope can be sustained in reality. My bilingual-from-birth friends never had to work at it and have both languages with native phonology. There are some mild quirks in their English , mostly to do with idioms which the occasionally get wrong (and there is probably something similar in their Spanish I suspect, a few of which, like genders, I sometimes spot, but most are way beyond me as, at least in English, they make very sophisticated mistakes).

    I was talking to the lecturer in romance languages at Cambridge the other day (as you do), about language learning and she said that realistically an adult learner won’t get the same level as in their native language, but they can get pretty close (she is Greek and speaks fluent English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and intermediate German, Romanian, and Occitan). She also said that I should start learning Portuguese soon if I want to be trilingual as the idea is to have all three cohabit, not replace my Spanish with Portuguese as happened with my French when I learnt Spanish. I find that very interesting, and am going to do it. Portuguese starts next year! (I have too much teaching this semester for it to happen in 2007)

    If I ever have kids, depending on the nationality of their mother and what country we are living in, they are going to be bi or tri lingual from the get go.

  4. Declan says:

    Fluency depends more on immersion than on age. The ‘critical’ period as it is called also coincides with fluency in one language and when children have massive exposure to that one language. It’s a lot harder to become bilingual if you are twelve than six, not only because you are older, but because the way you interact, and your ability to talk is totally different. That doesn’t mean that you cannot, it simply means that you have to be immersed, just like you are when you are younger.

  5. Ben says:

    “young children who have rich and early exposure to two languages are […] cognitively more advanced than their monolingual peers on certain highly sophisticated cognitive tasks to do with attention and abstract reasoning.”

    Shouldn’t that be enough reason to implement kindergarten-up secondary language instruction in America? I live in Texas and have my whole life and greatly regret not being able to speak Spanish fluently. Language classes weren’t an option for me until 7th grade and then I went with French because so many people went with Spanish. I’m glad I’ve learned French and love the language, but it’s useless here! We’re so intent on getting everyone who moves here to learn English but in doing so we make ourselves look so silly to the rest of the world.

    Perhaps public schools should teach a secondary language based on the largest “minority” population in the region, thereby connecting children to a local community as well as a broader international one. This could even be extended to native languages. For example, here in Texas we could all learn Spanish. In Louisiana French or, better, Cajun French could be taught. Besides helping our children be more marketable in a diverse world, this also could help preserve regional cultures. I’m with James–my kids WILL know more than just English from the start!

  6. Polly says:

    My (imaginary) kids will have to be trilingual from the get go – Armenian, Spanish and, of course, English. I’d like to pass on whatever Russian I know, but let’s face it, the Cold War is over. Nobody needs to know Russian anymore…apparently not even Russians 🙁

    Arabic, on the other hand…

  7. James says:

    You know that unless you are a utter, humorless fanatic then you need to massage the social conditions in which you live (choice of wife, country where you live, choice of nursary, school etc) if you really want the multilinguaglism to work, otherwise you´ll give up after a while and they will forget everything. My nephew is being brought up bi-lingual english/arabic with an English father, Jordanian mother lving in Jordan. He has strong reasons for learning both (his Dad doesn´t speak Arabic).

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