About ‘The Universal Language’ How does being bilingual affect your brain? It depends on how you use language. Depending on what you read, speaking more than one language may or may not make you smarter.
These mixed messages are understandably confusing, and they’re due to the fact that nothing is quite as simple as it’s typically portrayed when it comes to neuroscience. We can’t give a simple “yes” or “no” to the question of whether being bilingual benefits your brain. Instead, it is becoming increasingly evident that whether and how your brain adapts to using multiple languages depends on what they are and how you use them. Research suggests that as you learn or regularly use a second language, it becomes constantly “active” alongside your native language in your brain.
To enable communication, your brain has to select one language and inhibit the other. This process takes effort and the brain adapts to do this more effectively. These adaptations usually occur in brain regions and pathways that are also used for other cognitive processes known as “executive functions”. Mixed results? Learning a second language makes you more creative in your first.
Over the past decade, reams of research by economists has been devoted to investigating why they failed to foresee the financial crisis, among other things economics has recently gotten wrong.
This soul-searching has produced new theories, models, and policies, but it hasn’t fully repaired the reputation of the field. As time passes and the effects of the crisis fade, people still find it hard to trust economists. The latest effort to improve public opinion of economics comes from Jean Tirole, winner of the Nobel prize in economics in 2014. The Frenchman’s latest book, Economics for the Common Good (Princeton University Press), is a 560-page manifesto on how the profession can get back on track. The timing of the book—published in English this month after its original release in French last year—is pertinent. Amid a general backlash against “elites,” economists must prove their worth.
He also isn’t afraid to turn the tables. An ex-post rationalization is also populism. Is this likely? Second languages can twist perception. It’s not just the words we use that can impact how we understand the world around us, the language that we use can have its own, surprising impact, as Adam Murphy’s been finding out from Manon Jones, from Bangor University...
Adam - The languages we speak can impact the way we understand the world. In my limited experience, for example, Irish people are less likely to just say yes or just say no, because Irish has no words for yes and no; you respond with the verb "I did" or "I didn't". But just how deep can this change be? Manon Jones from Bangor University told me how much our perceptions can change based on the languages we speak. Manon - At the very basic perceptual level it's being shown by one of the professors, Professor Guillaume Thierry, in our lab that you actually perceive colours differently depending on how you categorise them in your native language. Adam - And it's not simply speaking a different language that changes you. Adam - Which I thought was a little insidious. Bilingual kids have multiple advantages, no matter what the languages are.
We live in a world of great linguistic diversity.
More than half of the world’s population grows up with more than one language. There are, on the other hand, language communities that are monolingual, typically some parts of the English-speaking world. In this case, bilingualism or multilingualism can be seen as an extraordinary situation – a source of admiration and worry at the same time. But there are communities where bilingualism or multilingualism are the norm – for example in regions of Africa. A Cameroonian, for example, could speak Limbum and Sari, both indigenous languages, plus Ewondo, a lingua franca, plus English or French, the official languages, plus Camfranglais, a further lingua franca used between anglophone and francophone Cameroonians. Bilingual kids have multiple advantages, no matter what the languages are.