Monday, August 08, 2016
Why Being Bilingual Works Wonders For Your Brain
Interesting article discussing bilingualism and why you should pick up a language or two more than you already know. -JR
In a cafe in south London, two construction workers are engaged in cheerful banter, tossing words back and forth. Their cutlery dances during more emphatic gesticulations and they occasionally break off into loud guffaws. They are discussing a woman, that much is clear, but the details are lost on me. It’s a shame, because their conversation sounds fun and interesting, especially to a nosy person like me. But I don’t speak their language.
Out of curiosity, I interrupt them to ask what language they are speaking. They both switch easily to English, explaining that they are South Africans and had been speaking Xhosa. In Johannesburg, where they are from, most people speak at least five languages, says one of them, Theo Morris. For example, Morris’s mother’s tongue is Sotho, his father’s is Zulu; he learned Xhosa and Ndebele from his friends and neighbours and English and Afrikaans at school. “I went to Germany before I came here, so I also speak German,” he adds.
Was it easy to learn so many languages? “Yes, it’s normal,” he laughs.
He’s right. Around the world, more than half of people – estimates vary from 60-75% – speak at least two languages. Many countries have more than one official national language – South Africa has 11. People are increasingly expected to speak, read and write at least one of a handful of “super” languages, such as English, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish or Arabic, as well. So to be monolingual, as many native English speakers are, is to be in the minority and perhaps to be missing out.
Multilingualism has been shown to have many social, psychological and lifestyle advantages. Moreover, researchers are finding a swath of health benefits from speaking more than one language, including faster stroke recovery and delayed onset of dementia.