Bilingualism: Linked to a Variety of Positive Cognitive Benefits?

by multilingualmania on February 7, 2012

in Bilingualism


Fluency in more than one language is considered to benefit the overall development of an individual. There has been a lot of debate on this issue but finally, bilingualism has been proven to improve the cognitive and mental abilities of a person. Nevertheless, there is still confusion among people if bilingualism actually provides young children with an extra edge or it hampers with the learning process. Let us know a bit more about bilingualism and its effects, to be confident enough to support it.

1. Break the myth
One of the reasons behind the confusion regarding bilingualism is an age old theory that established the restricted capacity of the brain. This meant that the brain is not adept in acquiring the knowledge of various languages. Hence, it creates difficulty for a person to handle two or more languages perfectly. The theory further said that the knowledge gained in one language is not transferred or generalized to the other. However, experts have proven that learning two or more languages benefits the brain by making it more nimble. As a result, bilinguals can multitask and prioritize easily. It is extremely important to dispel the fear and myths surrounding bilingualism to be able to accept it.

2. Enhances cognitive traits
People with bilingual skills have been seen to foster a greater amount of cognitive abilities such as analogical reasoning, classification skills, visual-spatial abilities and concept formation. Experiments performed on children have shown that knowledge of more than a word for an idea or object has increased their concept about the thing. In addition to this, the creativity of children is also enhanced when they are bilingual. For instance, story-telling abilities are found to be stronger in children who speak more than one language. Cognitive flexibility, which happens due to bilingualism, helps in acquiring a wide range of thoughts, thus widening the horizons.

3. Some other benefits
If children get an exposure of more than one language, they tend to show early signs of reading. They also demonstrate better perception in listening and recognition skills as compared to monolingual kids. In fact, bilingual children are more skilled in interpreting grammar and using it in various ways. Speaking two languages or more enable children to absorb the different structures and meanings of the languages. This helps them to think in a complicated manner too. In fact, bilingual kids exhibit an improved problem solving attitude and tend to score better in math. Contrary to fears, bilingualism improves communication skills in persons adopting it.

Bilinguals possess the quality to ignore irrelevant information of perceptions and focusing on the needed one. The practice of inhibition required in handling multiple languages benefit them in other fields of education as well. In a survey, it has also been found that normally, bilingual elderly people possess better cognitive functioning than the monolingual ones. Bilingualism in fact, is also considered to ward off the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease in aged people.

Many parents fear that practice of bilingualism in children will affect their healthy academic learning and progress. However, based on scientific studies it can be said to be untrue. The fact is that learning a second language in childhood brings about many cognitive gains which impact life positively.

About the Author: Ellen Spencer is a blogger and writer. She is a health freak and very environmentally aware. These days she is busy in writing an article on Inflammatory bowel disease. Beside this she loves reading. She is also a big fan of Bugaboo Strollers.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tammy King, WIDA blogger February 13, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Illinois has a wonderful conference each winter for teachers of culturally and linguistically diverse students. This year Dr. Else Hamayan delivered one of the keynote presentations. She spoke on many of the same topics you discussed. I wrote about it at http://www.widaatwcer.blogspot.com/2011/12/me-washa-la-mano.html

Jeanne @soultravelers3 February 17, 2012 at 10:38 am

We are monolinguals who have purposely raised our child from birth as a fluent-as-a-native trilingual/triliterate in Spanish/Mandarin/English ( and traveled the world to help with this).

She just turned 11 and there is no doubt in my mind that her multilingualism has been a great benefit in many ways, besides just language learning. She spoke and walked early and she taught herself to read at 2.

Since language learning is “code breaking” I think it has helped her in math and reading and many other “code breaking” skills like learning music ( she plays violin and piano).

Valerie Butron February 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Excellent article! It’s important for educators to help dispel some of the myths surrounding children acquiring more than one language simultaneously. I will be presenting a workshop for parents in my school district focused on developing bilingualism and biliteracy in the home. I definitely plan to present the latest research in this area as part of the workshop.

multilingualmania March 21, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts and resources!

@Tammy Thanks Tammy, your article was great! I love Else Hamayan!

@Jeanne Wow, just wow! What a little genius teaching herself to read at such a young age! I think learning a language helps many people “notice” language much more.

@Valerie That is a great idea for a workshop! How did it go!?

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