Ming the Mechanic:
Multi-linguals keep their mind longer

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Multi-linguals keep their mind longer2004-07-02 18:32
by Flemming Funch

Mentioned by Allan Karl and by Nick Temple, studies seem to show that people who speak several languages will keep their minds alert and flexible in old age more than those who speak only one language. Article in the Economist.
It is certainly useful to be able to speak more than one language. But, according to a paper by Ellen Bialystok, of York University in Canada, and her colleagues, in this month's issue of Psychology and Aging, it is useful not just for the obvious reason that it makes it possible to talk to more people. Dr Bialystok found that "bilinguals"—individuals who grew up speaking two languages and continue to do so—performed significantly better on a variety of simple cognitive tasks than people who speak only one. Furthermore, the differences between the two groups increased with age, leading her to hypothesise that knowing and using two languages inhibits the mind's decline.
Seems logical enough, I guess. The mind works to a large degree on recognizing similarities and differences, and if one speaks multiple languages one naturally stays aware of how things are similar and different. Whereas people who speak just one language more easily slip into a habit of thinking that things always mean the same. Of course one can make up for it by many other kinds of familiarity with diversity.

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2 Jul 2004 @ 18:40 by skookum : Does being somewhat ambidextrous
and Rt brain dominate count?

Seriouisly though, I was so thrilled to know my son and his wife were going to make sure their daughter would be bilingual. She speaks English and Korean. What a wonderful gift to have that ability.  

2 Jul 2004 @ 19:35 by ming : Bilingual kids
Seems to do wonderful things for kids to learn several languages at the same time. Probably particularly if it is very different languages, like Korean and English. With Korean I've gotten as far as learning the alphabet and saying hello and goodbye and count to a hundred, even though it is a bit rusty. An-yong ha shim-ni-ka!  

8 Jul 2004 @ 00:45 by Allan Karl @ : Polyglotinous
I like your point that language is not the only key to cognitive upkeep. You mention diversity -- I think this is an excellent observation. And one of the reasons I travel so much is not only to hone my language skills (or realize how lame they are!) but to also relish in things different and diverse from the culture I've been raised... good stuff!!  

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