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Education Science

Bilingual Kids Show More Creativity 221

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 gagol ( 583737 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @07:40PM (#40881399)
    What about people living in Quebec, a lot people there speaks varying levels of english. Also in Europe, many people learn many languages there too. Cultural isolationism fail.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 04, 2012 @08:29PM (#40881711)

    No thanks. In the amount of time it takes to learn a new spoken/written language, I could have become an expert in any other more useful thing. If you speak English, there's little point to learning a second language. This isn't some arrogant pompous statement. I just mean that, in almost any business or travel situation you are likely to ever be in, the other people are likely going to speak a common tongue -- English.

    Some people say "well, gosh, you need to learn another language to be well-rounded and so you can travel". That's bullshit. Great, I learn German. That'll help me for the one week of my life that I ever spend visiting in Germany. How is it going to help me in Japan, China, Mexico, Spain, Canada, France, Norway, Iceland, Russia, Sweden or any other place?

    I'm almost 40. I'm a professional. I deal in a highly technical field with other highly technical people from all over the world who are from and working in all parts of the world. Every day, I deal with people who are French, Indian, German, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Russian and countless other nationalities. At no point have I ever thought "gosh, I sure wish I knew ONE of these many languages". It just isn't necessary. Now, if you plan to go live and work in another country, sure. Learn the language. If your whole goal is to be a specialist in arab history, learn arabic. Great. But you don't need to learn a second, third, or even fourth language for most jobs and you certainly don't need it in your day to day life.

  • by grcumb ( 781340 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @08:41PM (#40881821) Homepage Journal

    Indeed, I would like to get hands on a wide reaching comparative study involving more languages than two. My guess is that finding people speaking more than 2 languages are not common... and you sir are a real exception.

    Depends on what part of the world you're from. Papua New Guinea has over 1000 living spoken languages, the Solomon Islands has hundreds. Even Vanuatu, where I live, has over 100 spoken languages. It's perfectly commonplace for a child to be fluent in either English or French (depending on which school they attend), both of their parents' native tongues, and Bislama [], the lingua franca here. In the course of any given day, I find myself speaking English and Bislama at the office, French with people of French extraction, and sharing greetings and pleasantries in about fifteen (yes: 15) other languages.

    Nobody blinks an eye, except for those who observe that a lot of unilingual expats never learn even one other language. I suspect the difference is that I grew up in a mixed English/French-speaking community, and picked up my first 'second' language at a very early age.

    I expect that people's facility with multiple languages is what leads to Bislama - a variety of pidgin English - being used so inventively [], in spite of being particularly impoverished in terms of grammar and vocabulary.

  • by Penurious Penguin ( 2687307 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @08:48PM (#40881875) Journal
    Since much of our thinking is actually affected by language, and language structures vary sometimes greatly (e.g. Chinese vs English), integrating an additional language into a mind seems highly likely to expand general mental capacity. Perspective is perhaps an underrated element. I am no linguist, but as I understand, a language such as English suffers a lot of nouns. Since most 'things' are actually not nouns, but motions in space/time, a language centered more around the verb may offer advantages. I find Alfred Korzybski's E-Prime [] quite intriguing. I think one interesting example might be the Chinese word for "fist" -- which i think in Cantonese is something like (pinyin) quan? -- , a noun in English, but an action or verb in Chinese. Maybe I am going a bit far with this, but it would seem to me that any form of exercise and added pliability would offer more capacity for mental tasks. But of course, not in all matters, i.e. mathematics.

    I remember taking introductory German as a teenager and thinking differently because of it. While it didn't have me asking random strangers for their papers or hording bratwursts, I did feel more capable and confident because of it. Though I suppose this may be true of any substantial exercise, whether linguistic or otherwise.
  • by luis_a_espinal ( 1810296 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @09:37PM (#40882203) 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.

  • by ciurana ( 2603 ) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @12:31AM (#40883383) Homepage Journal

    4-language fluency here (Spanish, English, Russian, French) and working my way up in Japanese.

    The difference between doing business in English in a land where it's not the native language vs. the local/national language is huge. By not speaking the local language you limit your understanding ranging feim mere subtlety to complete conversations that may (and will) happen in front of you.

    Maybe it's because for a large chunk of the last 15 years I've arranged my business around international locales (e.g. I was doing business in 5 countries in July) -- I find knowing multiple languages to be a huge asset. It fine tuned my cultural sensibility and my ear (e.g. I can grasp significant snippets in Polish, German, Italian during a biz conversation). And it helps to lubricate all social situations.

    The ages at which I learned them were English: 16; French: 18; Russian: 24; Japanese (which I use the least and I'm far from fluent): 38. If I went to Japan on business more than 5 weeks/year I'd probably be more fluent.

    In the US or abroad I deal daily with people who speak these languages. Communicating with them in their native language can often create rapport and a better experience much faster. Great for business and interpersonal relationships.

    Just my $0.02 back. Cheers!

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @12:53AM (#40883529)

    My wife is Hispanic. She grew up in a bilingual home in Chile.

    At one time she held the highest score ever recorded in South America in the Oxford English Competency Exam. After graduating from college at age 17 in Chile she was awarded a 4 year scholarship to study in Europe where she picked up 5 other languages.

    She was then awarded a Fullbright scholarship to come to the US where she obtained a PhD in Medieval English Lit.

    If there is a performance problem with Hispanic kids it's due to poverty, racism and the the horrific US education system which has no concept of how to teach even monolingual students.

  • by mce ( 509 ) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @04:03AM (#40884449) Homepage Journal

    I'm almost 50 in a highly technical field, but I can assure you that mastering 4 languages (Dutch, English, French, German - all reasonably fluently) is an enormous help. I have team members that are native French speakers with a limited knowledge of English. I have team members who are native German speakers and are quite fluent in English, but who still communicate faster in German. For me as the team leader it helps enormously that I can switch on the fly.

    Much more important, however, even as a "technical manager" I constantly have to deal with suppliers & potential customers from all over the world. Being able to switch languages to their native one or at least to their second best one opens an enormous amount of doors. Germany is a particularly good example of this. Especially in southern Germany practical knowledge of English is limited - even amongst engineers. They are always very pleasantly surprised when they discover that a foreigner speaks German fluently enough to do business with them. And if "doing business" sounds not technical enough, the same applies to our field application engineers. As a worldwide company, we have field application engineers "everywhere", but we cannot afford to have them in every country. So we require them to be multilingual so they can cover a wider area, travel with ease, and deal with people who master English less than perfectly.

    You say "how will German help me in Japan, China, Mexico, Spain, Canada, France, Norway, Iceland, Russia, Sweden or any other place?" And indeed, German will not help you in Japan. But it will help you in many European countries. French and Spanish will help you in a very large part of the world. Think of Africa & South America, for instance.

    Finally, the whole point of the reported research is that having grown up in a multilingual environment helps in other ways than just knowing languages.I fully understand that this may be hard to believe for people who didn't have that luck - a bit like inhabitants of flatland can't imagine the third dimension. But that doesn't make it untrue.

  • by mce ( 509 ) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @04:27AM (#40884559) Homepage Journal
    Writing as a Belgian and thus intimately familiar with language wars: Over here the people who argue against multilingual education are indeed most often the "monolingual zealot (typically of the borderline racist kind)" type. Since they don't want to be labeled as such, they will typically use the "it confuses the child" argument, ideally using a young child that uses two languages in a single sentence as evidence (as if uni-lingual young children never make grammar mistakes). The "it's confusing" claim has the additional benefit that it can be used to convince non-racists who don't know any better. Never mind that the whole argument has been scientifically disproved a ton of times. Never mind even that every single multilingual child/adult walking the place is a perfect example that no harm was done. (Well, of course from the point of view of the zealots, harm was done. But I refuse make them my to reference point.)

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll