Shoulda Been Raised Bilingual.

Until we began discussing it in class, I had never even considered how complex languages are or just how much our brain has to go through to process simple phrases. From morphemes and phonemes to semantics, syntax, and phonology(luckily they can do these things without us having to know their definitions), our brains go through numerous complex processes that give us the ability to communicate verbally with others whose brains go through those processes in the same way. But most of us only speak one language. What about those talented individuals who speak more than one language? Are the cognitive skills of bilinguals, who can parse sentences in two completely distinct languages, more advanced than the cognitive skills of monolinguals?

Recently (March 11, 2016), The New York Times posted an article by Katherine Kinzler entitled “The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals”.  In the article, Kinzler states that in recent years two new studies have come out that show that multilingual exposure improves both children’s cognitive skills and social abilities. In a study conducted in Kinzler’s lab, 4-6 year old children who were being raised multilingual performed better in a task designed to determine the capabilities of considering others’ perspectives when compared to children who were being raised monolingual. They also determined that children who were monolingual but were exposed to other languages performed better at this same perspective-consideration task than children who were only ever exposed to one language. This discovery prompted her and her colleagues to administer a cognitive test of executive function to each of the children to test their “cognitive skills”. Not surprisingly, the children being raised bilingual performed better than the children being raised multilingual, however, the “exposure” children did not score any better than the children who had only ever been exposed to one language. They theorized that something more “social” must be influencing the “exposure” children’s ease in adopting another’s point-of-view. Kinzler later re-conducted this experiment with even younger children. This time, 14-16 month-old babies, who could barely speak, were given a similar point-of-view recognition task. Once again, both multilingual raised babies and babies exposed to multiple languages performed better than babies only ever exposed to one language. She concluded that multilingual exposure facilitates the basic skills of interpersonal understanding.

The fact that these superior cognitive skills are noticeable in babies and children blows my mind. These children’s brains are being exposed to at least twice as much language related information as mine ever was, are having to break down situations in at least two distinct languages, and are being shown to be more advanced both cognitively and socially because of it. Now I kinda wish that my parents could have been at least bilingual…