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The Advantages Of Bilingualism, And Current Research On The Topic

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Bilingualism is hard to define as it relies upon the meaning of fluency. In its simplest form, bilingualism is defined as “knowing” two languages (Valdez & Figueroa, 1994). A more recent definition views the proficiency of learning multiple languages on a continuum (Harley, 2014).

In language acquisition, simultaneous bilingualism is considered to occur when two languages are acquired from birth or prior to one year of age (De Houwer, 2005). Whereas, sequential bilingualism is when one language is acquired following another, the age of the second language (L2) acquisition is important (Flege, 1992). Those who began learning their L2 later in life are known as late bilinguals. Bilingualism is the topic in which this essay is based upon, containing a critical description of the advantages of bilingualism, using current research.

Current research put forth by Craik (2010) was conducted, with the aim of looking into the environmental factor of bilingualism, and its advantageous role in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) symptoms. In the study 40 participants with probable AD had CT scans, 20 of them were bilingual whilst the remainder were monolingual. Bilingual patients had significantly higher values than the monolingual patients in the temporal horn ratio, indicating more atrophy in the medial temporal lobes. The radial width of the temporal horn is arguably the best measure of temporal lobe atrophy and AD (Frisoni et al., 2002) it was significantly larger in bilingual AD patients than in monolingual AD patients. This is important as prior work in this area has shown that the onset of AD is significantly delayed by as much as 5 years in patients who are bilingual (Bialystok, 2007).

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However, before the 1960s not everyone saw bilingualism as an important advantage. Some believed that being bilingual was a handicap that slowed down children’s development, as they were spending a lot of energy distinguishing between languages. According to more recent research, the effort needed to switch between languages triggered more activity, and strengthened the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which plays a large role in problem solving, executive function, and switching between tasks. These results are consistent with the view that switching between languages involves increased general executive processing (Hernandez, 2001). It is known now that children are able to learn languages more easily, which can be explained through the critical period hypothesis.

The critical period hypothesis (Lenneberg, 1967) is a theoretical perspective that claims there is an ideal time period in life to learn a language, which is from early childhood to adolescence. Children are able to learn easier due to the plasticity of developing brains, which allows them to use both hemispheres of the brain in language acquisition. If this is true, learning a language in childhood may give you a more holistic grasp of its social and emotional context. On the other hand, when learning a second language as an adult, you are less likely to show emotional bias, and a more rational approach when confronting problems in the second language than their native one. This is important as bilingualism provides an additional tool for investigating language and cognition. So learning a language, whether it is in childhood or adulthood causes many advantageous benefits due to being bilingual. One of the disadvantages of bilingualism could be the unequal distribution of languages.

The verbal skills of bilinguals in each language are generally weaker than those for monolingual speakers of each language (Bialystok, 2012). This is due to a transfer and interference from the stronger language to the weaker language. In contrast to this pattern, bilinguals do have better executive control, which is the ability to carry out goal related behaviour, which I have previously mentioned.

To conclude, the cognitive and neurological benefits of bilingualism extends from childhood to old age, these benefits are not only seen in those who were raised bilingual but are also seen in people who learn a second language later in life (Craik, 2010). Despite certain limitations e.g. increased naming difficulty (Gollan, 2005) bilingualism is

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The Advantages Of Bilingualism, And Current Research On The Topic. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2023, from
“The Advantages Of Bilingualism, And Current Research On The Topic.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022,
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