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Education Science

Bilingual Kids Show More Creativity 221

Posted by Soulskill
from the blame-your-parents-for-making-you-dumb dept.
An anonymous reader tips news of a study from researchers at the University of Strathclyde which found bilingual children to be significantly more successful at a set of tasks than children who spoke only one language. "The differences were linked to the mental alertness required to switch between languages, which could develop skills useful in other types of thinking." Lead researcher Fraser Lauchlan said, "Bilingualism is now largely seen as being beneficial to children but there remains a view that it can be confusing, and so potentially detrimental to them. Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively. We also assessed the children's vocabulary, not so much for their knowledge of words as their understanding of them. Again, there was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils."
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Bilingual Kids Show More Creativity

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  • by xaxa (988988) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @08:39PM (#40881803)

    Luxembourg is a good example -- people born there (to Luxembourgish parents) tend to speak Luxembourgish, German, French and English.

    Many people in Wales speak both English and Welsh.

    A huge number of Europeans speak their native language plus English, but how often they use English will depend on their occupation. Some universities give lectures in English (rather than the local language), and some workplaces work in English.

  • by grcumb (781340) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @09:04PM (#40881973) Homepage Journal

    And the results of this study are a surprise...why? Of course children who have the discipline, tenacity and motivation to learn and switch between two languages are going to be better at most things...language is a multifaceted mental effort, one of the highest degree...if they can learn and master two languages its should be a no-brainer they can do most other things better as well.

    I think you're missing the point. In many, many parts of the world, people learn two or three languages before they even start school. In East Africa, you learn your parents' language and ki-Swahili; in Indonesia and Malaysia, it's parental language(s) plus Bahasa and sometimes Arabic; in the Philippines, it's parental language(s) plus Tagalog plus English. The list goes on. It's simply taken for granted. I don't think the study is saying that learning language makes you smarter per se; it's saying that certain kinds of problems are easier for children who use more than one language on a regular basis.

    If I've read it right, this is on the level of stating that people who grow up in mountainous areas with few vehicles generally show greater leg strength across the board. It's not suggesting that there aren't stronger and weaker children within that sample. I personally know some functionally illiterate people who can speak 4-6 languages fluently. They're not special; they're just a product of the environment they grew up in.

    ... It is disappointing, however, to see how unimaginative unilingual people can sometimes be. Maybe it's perceptual bias on my part, but I feel that I encounter more zero-sum, black/white logic from unilingual people than from multilingual people.

  • by dj245 (732906) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @01:17AM (#40883649) Homepage

    Who the hell thinks this?

    Monolingual zealots (typically of the borderline racist kind). Seriously, YMMV, but the only type of people I've ever seen making this claim are the type not typically happy with people speaking a foreign language around them. I don't understand what they are talking about, so they must be talking about me!!!". It feels like a long time ago, the early 90's when you could still see the bigotry the hatred. It was regular topic in the news, of employers firing their employees because they were talking Spanish or Vietnamese or Creole, or f* Klingon in the parking lot on the way home or during lunch (not on the clock, mind you, not on the clock.)

    Now, the rhetoric has shifted from language to immigration status, and to a somewhat lesser degree to Islamic fundamentalism. The later two are based real issues - illegal immigration and Islamic terrorism. However, a significant number of people who bring these issues up do so to rationalize Anti-Hispanic or Islamophobic sentiments, regardless of their connections (or lack thereof) with illegal immigration or Islamic terrorism.

    It is a generalization, I know, to say these claims are only made by people uncomfortable with foreign-language speakers. But it has been a generalization that holds true in my experience. YMMV obviously.

    I don't think you need to be any kind of zealot to think that multiple languages confuses a child. My wife's first language is not English. Many of her immigrant friends have children who are learning to speak English and another language. They are slower at first. Sometimes they are confused about who speaks what language. Many times one of their children has come up to me and started babbling in a language I don't understand. Since small children are basically psychopaths (don't know right from wrong) they can't tell who understands or not. Over the long term they catch up, but if you were trying bilingual children without *needing* to, or if both parents spoke only one language, it would be pretty easy to just say "it confuses the children" and give up. My own son is only 4 months so he isn't saying much of anything, but based on the experience of our friends, he will be a little slower than his single-language peers at first.

    There is a pretty good argument in the US that you don't need more than one language. I can get in my car, drive 12 hours, stop for the night, drive for 12 hours the next day, stop for the night again and drive for 12 hours on a third day. I live in the middle of the country, but a 36 hour drive would only put me in California somewhere. The US is VAST and monolingual. There are English "dialects" but you can generally understand people without any problem. I know of no other country on the planet where this is the case except the US. If I lived as an expat (I'm trying to do this, but my company won't cooperate) I would try to learn the local language, but for now it would be a huge time sink for no reward.

  • Re:Multiculturalism (Score:4, Informative)

    by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Sunday August 05, 2012 @05:11AM (#40884703) Journal

    Well, it is a pompous and arrogant statement, in many places they won't be able to speak English, especially if you go away from anywhere touristy.

    I started learning Spanish 4 years ago, basically because I felt like some Imperialist speaking English slowly and loudly at foreigners. It has had benefits I never even imagined, and never went out intending to have when I learned it. I only started so I could learn enough to do touristy things - get a hotel room, order a beer, get food, find directions, but it sort of turned into an addiction when I found out that learning languages was actually fun, and not the dull boring slog they made us do when they forced us to learn French at school (and unfortunately, I still don't speak more than 2 words of French. I learned almost nothing about French at school, partly due to lack of effort, partly due to the sheer boredom that the method to teach French in school induced. Learning language should be fun, and it's something humans do naturally, and turning it into a boring difficult slog is completely counterproductive, and school language teaching has failed generations of kids in this country).

    Some of the unintended consequences that have happened: I've now got a whole heap of Spanish friends, and good friends too. I've discovered new music I never would have discovered. TV and films I would never have known. Food that I would never have tasted otherwise, all because speaking the language gets me places I otherwise wouldn't have been. All of those have been ten times worth the effort of learning Spanish, and it was fun to do anyway! And when we talk about highly technical subjects, we understand each other a lot better. Even if a Spanish person is speaking English, I can understand why they make certain errors in English and what they mean when they make these errors so it's been enormously helpful even if the person I'm talking to is actually speaking English. The time spent learning Spanish has paid off for me more than 100 times. With a little more effort I'll be fluent. I'm not a kid either, I was 36 when I started learning it. (I actually gave a talk in Spanish with only 14 months of learning under my belt, it's actually not as hard as you expect since you can prepare beforehand). And yes, I now use Spanish every day.

    Also there have been studies that have shown that bilingualism may be more effective in slowing things like Alzheimers than drugs.

Premature optimization is the root of all evil. -- D.E. Knuth

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