If you are multilingual the chances are you are the product of a multi-national relationship or you come from a country where many languages are spoken or heard every day.
The latter tend to be small countries surrounded by big neighbours. The Netherlands for example is surrounded by powerful neighbours – Germany, France and Britain.
Most of the pop music in the Netherlands is in English and many Dutch people are able to speak excellent English and often have a good working knowledge of German.
There is very good evidence to show that people fluent in or even just regularly exposed to other languages have much better cognitive skills such as problem solving, mental flexibility, attention control, inhibitory control and task switching. Research even shows that bilingual or multilingual people are more resistant to dementia.
The Economist magazine recently reported on a study by Samantha Fan and Zoe Liberman of the University of Chicago. They took three groups of four to six year olds; monolingual, bilingual and children who were regularly exposed to another language, and placed a grid of objects between them and a research scientist.
Models of a large, medium and small car were placed in front of the children but the small car was hidden from the adult researcher. When the adult stated,”I see a small car”, the children were asked to move it. The more mentally acute children could appreciate the smallest car to the adult was actually the medium car. Seventy five per cent of the time, both the bilingual and “language exposure” children moved the medium car, realising it was the smallest car the adult could see, whereas, the monolingual children only moved the medium car 50 per cent of the time.
Before the 1960s it was thought being exposed regularly to more than one language would disadvantage a child, limiting their vocabulary in each language and splitting their cognitive energy resulting in too little time being spent to be competent in either.
However, since then many studies, under strict scientific control have demonstrated the opposite is true. Not only do bilingual speakers speak just as well as their monolingual counterparts but as demonstrated by Fan and Liberman their cognitive skills are often better.
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