[lg policy] Multilingualism good for brain

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Mar 7 21:49:17 UTC 2010

Multilingualism good for brain

Speaking several languages improves people's ability to master complex
thinking processes, a study by an international team of researchers
finds. The results based on a macro-analysis of a variety of studies
even indicate that multilingualism might delay the onset of
age-related mental diminishment later in life. The study was
commissioned by the European Commission. In addition to possibly
slowing down dementia, the researchers identify further main areas
where multilingualism appears to have a positive impact, including
learning, complex thinking and creativity, interpersonal skills,
mental flexibility and communication skills.

Existing scientific evidence further indicates that memory function
benefits from the knowledge and use of multiple languages. 'It is
obvious that enhanced memory can have a profound impact on cognitive
function,' says David Marsh of Jyväskylä University in Finland, who
coordinated the research. Mr Marsh adds that this might be one of the
reasons why multilingual individuals tend to be able to handle complex
and demanding problem-solving tasks better than their monolingual
counterparts.  Originally, this was believed to be true only of people
who are truly bilingual or trilingual with a very advanced command of
their languages. However, more recent research suggests that processes
that change the brain's electrical activity are set in motion even
when we start learning a new language. 'This is inspirational for
anyone who has an opportunity to learn, or otherwise keep an
additional language active in their lives,' Mr Marsh says.

Hence, the researchers believe that their findings go beyond the
linguistic argument. 'Knowledge of more than one language could well
open up forms of added value which go beyond the languages themselves
and lead to 'multicompetence',' the report concludes. 'The
implications are wide-ranging. If there are cognitive and behavioural
benefits resulting from knowledge of more than one language, then
there is a need to examine how this potential can be realised so as to
maximise advantage.' The report further argues that multilingualism
should be recognised as a 'lever for economic growth and social
cohesion', rather than an inconvenience. The value of languages should
be communicated and their development supported through policy and

'The evidence clusters described here suggest that multilingualism is
a resource which has the potential to play a key role in responding to
the challenges of the present and future,' the report closes. 'It is
one existing resource which is likely to nourish emergent processes of
creativity that will help expand individual and societal
opportunities.' The study was conducted between May 2008 and June 2009
across the 27 EU Member States as well as Norway and Turkey. It takes
into account scientific literature from Europe and beyond, plus input
from 30 experts in the studied countries and a core scientific team.

The analysis was set against five hypotheses previously formulated by
the Commission. These assume that there is a link between
multilingualism and creativity: multilingualism broadens access to
information and offers alternative ways of organising thought as well
as of perceiving the surrounding world. Finally, it was surmised that
learning a new language increases the potential for creative thought.


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