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Bilingualism: Illness or Advantage


Our mother-tongue is able to change the way we perceive the world around. It is quite logical that the more words we use, the greater knowledge we have about the surrounding world. But only think about a person who is brought up in bilingual environment being able to speak two or even more languages. Such a person is obviously exposed to the abundant world of meanings that makes his/her perception of the world even wider. Linguists and psychologists have not yet investigated the full effect of bilingualism on the minds and lives of people living in bilingual environment. Still, we know for sure that speaking two or more languages can be highly beneficial for our cognitive abilities. The following essay will examine what benefits and drawbacks that are associated with bilingualism to answer the question whether this phenomenon has a positive or negative effect on people.

First of all, let us give a definition of bilingualism. Basically, it is a term that might have different definitions depending on the type of research and the diversity of groups of people that can be considered bilingual. To put it simple, bilingualism is a case when a child grows up speaking several different languages at a time. As a rule, a child is brought up by parents who know two or even more native languages and can use them interchangeably. In this regard, bilingualism is somewhat related to the language acquisition, which is a specific means of learning the native language in childhood. The fact is that in our childhood we gradually acquire language skills, so that with time our writing and communicative abilities seem as natural and customary as breathing. It is claimed by certain researchers that language acquisition starts from birth and ends when we reach the age of puberty. It is also evident that children can acquire language skills very quickly by picking up new phrases and words once they find themselves in a new environment. Such skills are truly astonishing.

So what are the advantages of being bilingual? Research shows that the brain of a child who grows up in bilingual environment has greater cognitive abilities. This can be considered one of the most important positive sides of bilingualism. Let us further examine all the benefits brought about by the phenomenon of bilingualism:

  • As mentioned above, enhanced cognitive skills are one of the benefits of bilingualism. The brain of a speaker of two languages is obviously more developed because it has to manage with two different languages at a time. Therefore, such functions of our brain as memory and attention are also developed to a great extent. These cognitive abilities have an influence on the control system of one’s brain, so that a person is able to perform multiple tasks simultaneously with greater efficiency. Besides, as bilingual people can switch from one language to another, they have better abilities to switch from one task to another. This can be observed even if the tasks a person performs are not related to linguistics.

  • Besides, it has been proved by the research that bilinguals generally outperform those who speak only one language in various situations which require the use of working memory. Furthermore, bilinguals have greater brain response when the situation demands the use of monitoring systems. This proves that unlike monolinguals, people who speak two or more languages tend to perform better in various tasks that require good functioning of the brain.

  • Another benefit of being bilingual is the fact that bilingual people are not susceptible to cognitive damage or at least are less likely to acquire cognitive disabilities. This is especially beneficial for those people who are vulnerable to developing dementia and other cognitive problems. It has been proved that the dementia symptoms can be delayed by about five years in case a person speaks several languages simultaneously. The brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease also works better and undergoes less degeneration if he/she is bilingual. This is a great benefit of bilingualism.

  • Furthermore, bilingualism can help to learn foreign languages with much ease. In fact, once a child acquires linguistic skills and becomes completely fluent in his/her native language, it is easier for a little kid to memorize words and phrases from other languages as well. Therefore, it has been proved by scientific research that people who fluently speak two or more languages have greater chances to easily acquire knowledge of some other languages as well, although this claim needs to be further investigated. Nevertheless, it is known for sure that bilinguals have more enhanced linguistic abilities than monolingual speakers. They are able to learn new phrases from a foreign language without additional effort. They can also spot various associations between different words from a non-native language and possess an ability to use new information in a number of different ways. It has also been proven that bilinguals have greater listening and communication skills and can come up with different solutions to problems with much ease.

So the next question is whether there are any disadvantages of being bilingual. To answer this question, it needs to be noted that there were times when bilingualism was considered to cause harm to people’s IQ and verbal development. But such a tendency existed at the beginning of the previous century, and since that time numerous investigations have been conducted to find out other problems associated with bilingualism. Here is a list of drawbacks of being bilingual:

  • It has been found in some studies that because the brain of a bilingual individual contains knowledge of two languages, it is associated with excessive cost of processing information, and this can further lead to the underdevelopment of verbal skills in bilingual people. In comparison with monolingual speakers, bilinguals have fewer chances to develop normal verbal abilities.

  • One more research has shown that bilingual people know not as many words of various semantic categories as monolingual individuals. This further leads to their vocabulary being much smaller compared to people speaking only one language.

  • And this is not all. One more study has found out that people who fluently speak two or more languages are more likely to suffer from the “tip of the tongue” situations. This often leads to the underdevelopment of communicative skills among such individuals.

In such a way, we can see that although there are many advantages of being bilingual, the drawbacks of bilingualism can still be found. Nevertheless, most of the drawbacks associated with bilingualism are in many cases worth the trouble. Therefore, if you are going to move to a new location and are worried that your kid might have some communicative troubles, don’t worry, because the brains of a child are still developing and can easily get accustomed to the new linguistic situations. Besides, bilingualism makes it easy to memorize phrases from a new language, which especially concerns little children. In any case, bilingualism is a good way to learn more about different cultures of the world and lead a richer life.

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