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Bilingual Children Learn Other Languages Easier During Adulthood Than Monolinguals

S u m m a r y :

Bilingual people learn an additional language easier than monolinguals, says a new study examining the brains of the two categories. The findings are published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.

Early bilingualism Helps Adults Process New Languages

If you were a bilingual child, you have better chances at learning more languages successfully as an adult. This theory has been around for a while now, with a body of research backing it, and the new findings constitute the first evidence that show the differences between bilingual and monolingual brains at work. According to the paper, co-authored by a team of researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center, early bilingualism is an asset for learning new languages in adulthood.

Looking Into The Brains of Bilinguals & Monolinguals

The participation of 13 bilingual college students was enlisted for the study—they were from the US with parents who spoke Mandarin, and they had, thus, learned both English and Mandarin during childhood. Their brain activity was compared with a set of 16 monolingual college students who were fluent in the English language. Both groups were to learn a new language: an artificial form of a Romance language called Brocanto2.

The researchers point out that they chose Mandarin-English bilinguals for their comparison because the two languages are structurally different from Brocanto2; the latter was selected as the new language because the investigators wanted an artificial one that would allow them to control exposure of the participants to the language.

Brocanto2 was taught to the volunteers for a period of a week. Before and after the training, the natural brain wave activity of the volunteers was analysed to understand how the brain was processing language; this was achieved with electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes placed on their scalps to record the brain patterns.

Different Brain Waves

The results show clear differences between the brains of the two categories of learners. The bilinguals, as opposed to the monolinguals, would rely more on the brain processes involved in the use of one’s native language, says senior author Michael T. Ullman. This was concluded from the observation of a specific brain-wave pattern known as P600 displayed by the bilinguals only. As for the monolinguals, they only started showing P600s at a later time during the learning process; they also had a brain-wave pattern that was not uncharacteristic of native speakers.

Who is Faster?

Moreover, the bilinguals were also faster at learning the new language, adds lead author Sarah Grey.

Make Your Kids Bilinguals!

Now, if you want your kids to assimilate languages better, make them learn more than language during their early years!


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