Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Are People Who Speak More Than One Language Smarter??" from VOA.

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

In the early nineteen fifties, researchers found that people scored lower on intelligence tests if they spoke more than one language. Research in the sixties found the opposite. Bilingual people scored higher than monolinguals, people who speak only one language. So which is it?

Researchers presented their newest studies last month at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The latest evidence shows that being bilingual does not necessarily make people smarter. But researcher Ellen Bialystok says it probably does make you better at certain skills.

ELLEN BIALYSTOK: "Imagine driving down the highway. There’s many things that could capture your attention and you really need to be able to monitor all of them. Why would bilingualism make you any better at that?"

And the answer, she says, is that bilingual people are often better at controlling their attention -- a function called the executive control system.

ELLEN BIALYSTOK: "It’s quite possibly the most important cognitive system we have because it's where all of your decisions about what to attend to, what to ignore, what to process are made."

Ms. Bialystok is a psychology professor at York University in Toronto, Canada. She says the best method to measure the executive control system is called the Stroop Test. A person is shown words in different colors. The person has to ignore the word but say the color. The problem is that the words are all names of colors.

ELLEN BIALYSTOK: "So you would have the word blue written in red, but you have to say red. But blue is so salient, it's just lighting up all these circuits in your brain, and you really want to say blue. So you need a mechanism to override that so that you can say red. That’s the executive control system."

Her work shows that bilingual people continually practice this function. They have to, because both languages are active in their brain at the same time. They need to suppress one to be able to speak in the other.

This mental exercise might help in other ways, too. Researchers say bilingual children are better able to separate a word from its meaning, and more likely to have friends from different cultures. Bilingual adults are often four to five years later than others in developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Foreign language study has increased in the United States. But linguist Alison Mackey at Georgetown University points out that English-speaking countries are still far behind the rest of the world.

ALISON MACKEY: "In England, like in the United States, bilingualism is seen as something special and unique and something to be commented on and perhaps work towards, whereas in many other parts of the world being bilingual is just seen as a natural part of life."

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Kelly Nuxoll. Tell us about your experience learning languages. Go to voaspecialenglish.com or the VOA Learning English page on Facebook. I'm Steve Ember.


1. The latest evidence shows that being bilingual makes you ____________ .
a. a little less intelligent
b. slightly more intelligent
c. better at certain skills
d. worse at many skills

2. You are asked to name the color that you see. You see the word "blue" in red letters. What is your answer?
a. blue
b. green
c. red
d. white

3. In the sentence: "It's lighting up the circuits in your brain," the best definition of the word "circuits" is " ________ ".
a. nerve connections
b. double languages
c. brain energy loops
d. circular reasoning

4. Bilingual people have to __________ one language in order to speak their second language.
a. engage
b. remember
c. forget
d. suppress

5. When I say "Blue is salient," I mean that "Blue _______ ."
a. recedes
b. causes saliva
c. stands out
d. transforms

6. The Executive Control System helps you to ___________ while you're driving.
a. ignore the road
b. focus on the road
c. attend to the view
d. talk on your cell

7. Children are more likely to be bilingual if they grow up in _________________ .
a. England
b. Wisconsin
c. The United States
d. South Africa

8. What is the infinitive in the following sentence from the TV Series "Star Trek": "Our mission is to boldly go where no one has gone before."
a. boldly go
b. to boldly
c. to go
d. is boldly

9. Another name for this article could be _____________
a. "The Advantages of Bilingualism."
b. "The Executive Control System."
c. "Lighting Up the Brain With Words."
d. "How To Distract Yourself Meaningfully."

10. This article is mainly about _________________ .
a. the hazards of knowing more than one language
b. the plus-side of bilingual skills
c. delayed Alzheimer's disease onset
d. the question as to whether bilingualism is advantageous

Read about increases in the brain's capacity resulting from second language knowledge here.
Read also "The Advantages of Being Bilingual."

Here's more:

Benefits of Being Bilingual

You can get a number of benefits of being bilingual in various aspects such as cognitive benefits, curriculum advantages, cultural benefits, employment advantages, communication advantages and tolerance of other languages and cultures.

* Cognitive benefits: The bilingual people can have some specific advantages in thinking. They have two or more words for each idea and object. Hence, a bilingual person can develop a creative thinking and an ability to think more flexibly. The bilinguals are aware about which language should be spoken with which person in a particular situation. Therefore, they are more sensitive to the needs of the listener than the monolingual people. Being bilingual has a positive effect on intellectual growth. It enhances and enriches a person’s mental development. The latest research has proved that the bilinguals are better at IQ tests as compared to the monolinguals.

* Character advantages: The bilinguals are able to switch between different languages and talk to different people in various languages. It increases a sense of self-esteem. Being bilingual creates a powerful link in different people from different countries.

* Curriculum benefits: A bilingual education offers better curriculum results. The bilinguals tend to show a higher performance in examinations and tests. It is associated with thinking benefits of bilingualism. The bilinguals find it quite easy to learn and speak three, four or more languages.

* Communication advantages: The bilinguals enjoy reading and writing in different languages. They can understand and appreciate literature in various languages. It gives a deeper knowledge of different ideas and traditions. It helps improve the ways of thinking and behaving. The pleasures of reading poetry, novels and magazines as well as the enjoyment of writing to family and friends are doubled for bilinguals. They don’t face difficulties in communication while in a foreign country.

* Cultural advantages: Bilingualism offers an access and exposure to different cultures. Knowledge of different languages offers a treasure of traditional and contemporary sayings, idioms, history and folk stories, music, literature and poetry in different cultures. Due to a wider cultural experience, there is a greater tolerance of differences in creeds and customs.

* Employment benefits: Being bilingual offers potential employment benefits. It offers a wider choice of jobs in various fields. The bilinguals can get prosperous career opportunities in the retail sector, transport, tourism, administration, secretarial work, public relations, marketing and sales, banking and accountancy, translation, law and teaching.


  1. lol dnt knw wht 2 say bt ths seems exciting to m bt jst hpe evry1 fndz it da sme wae.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Pumza,

    You're welcome to visit often. There will always be new stuff here. lol.

  3. Ths is interesting, I ddn't knw that people who re most bilingual re thr one's who grew up in Emzantsi. Guyz u're misn out!

  4. lmao i only scored 3 hahaha bt hey its quite interesting cz iv learned mre abt Bilingual

  5. Hited all right, just the star trek thing not.
    I know 3Languages and was raised with all 3.
    Romanian at home, German at school and english on tv,pc,WWW.
    Now im learning France and after that Italian.
    It's cool to speak more than 2 languages and know more than others.

  6. I am sorry to be the one that breaks this to you but your English really is quite appalling...
    Hited is not a word.

    The correct way to say what you meant would be:

    I did quite well in the test but I did not answer the question about star trek correctly.
    I speak 3 languages and was brought up speaking all 3.
    I learnt Romanian at home, German at school and English from watching TV and on the internet.
    I am now learning FRENCH and Italian.
    It's cool to speak 2 languages or more.

    Learn how to speak the languages you 'know' properly before trying to learn 'France'. It's about quality not quantity.

    Au fait, je suis aussi trilingue, je parle couramment Francais, Anglais at Allemand.