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Bilingualism: A Determinant of Intelligence?

The view toward bilingualism has changed drastically in the last few years. Gone are the days when speaking a second language was considered confusing or potentially risked delaying children’s development.

In a global society wherein bilingualism continues to garner more popularity, one must pose the question: how does the brain of a bilingual differ from their monolingual counterpart? Due to this rapid rise in the number of bilingual people, comes escalated probation into the science that bolsters this craft. Do bilinguals have the advantage over monolinguals when it comes to well-grounded operating and mastering of unknown languages?

Unveiling fabrications

It has been established that children who speak more than two languages have well-developed linguistic skills, thus, dispelling the commonly believed myths. Additionally, newborns can easily distinguish between different languages and they’re also capable of advancing dialects in two languages without getting confused. When bilinguals combine words from other languages into a single sentence, called code-switching or code change, it's not because they can't distinguish which word comes from which language. Interestingly, children naturally develop an understanding of who in the house speaks which language early on, due to their constantly developing brain, and then selectively choose the correct language to communicate.

Mixing of languages doesn’t hold bilingual children back from learning two or more languages, but it takes longer to learn two languages than to learn one. Although there is a usual trend for bilinguals to lag behind monolinguals in their linguistic development, this is not the case for all children.

Scientists are now trying to unravel the enigma of the bilingual brain and shed light on the benefits that this skill can provide.

The Communication Mix

Bilingual people have the ability to switch seamlessly between two different communication systems, obscuring the considerable control exercised at the neurological level. In fact, when a bilingual hears words in one language, the other language automatically gets activated in their brain. The brains of bilinguals adapt to this constant co-activation of two languages, and are therefore, quite different when compared to the brains of monolinguals.

Thus, it was clarified which zones inside our brain are concerned when bilinguals detect words that sound similar. It’s fascinating that in monolinguals, this “phonological” combat occurs only amongst words from the same language, whereas bilinguals have similar-sounding words from their second language added into the mix.

Neurological Adaptability

In monolingual people, zones in the frontal and temporal language areas of the brain – notably, the left supramarginal gyrus and the left inferior frontal gyrus – are only triggered when faced with phonological combat. It shows that various regions of the brain are needed to cope with phonological competition from within the same language, contrasted with between-language competition. The size and type of the neurological network that bilinguals have to figure out phonological competition largely varies, depending on the root of competition.

This shows the significant neurological versatility that allows bilinguals to advance discourse, despite phonetic competition from numerous sources. This neurological adaptability (brain’s ability to adapt to the environment and experiences) is consequential in cognitive functioning. This forces us to consider the possibility that bilinguals may have an advantage when it comes to cognitive function.

Robust Cognition

The fruit of bilingualism and cognitive function has been cracked using a series of behavioral and neuroimaging methods. The cognitive functions that have been shown to be affected by bilingualism largely concern attention – the ability to focus and retain attention on relevant information and shift attention as needed. This ‘attentional control’ is the dominant angle of cognitive function across one’s life, and plays a huge role in cognitive decline with maturing. So, anything that hikes these attention networks has the prospect to nurture cognitive function in old age. In some cases, bilinguals – even the illiterate ones – developed symptoms of dementia later than that of monolinguals.

Overturning the Assignment

Bilinguals naturally develop the ability to switch from one assignment to another – an expertise that serves as a flag of cognitive functioning.

The endurance of bilingual infants demands them to pay attention to different intakes within various linguistic contexts, which makes it accommodating for them to rapidly get attention from stimuli once they are processed, so that attention can be re-engaged to relevant stimuli.

In a research conducted earlier, the participants gave a test to explore their ability to switch between types of stimulus displays, wherein different types of responses were critically needed. The conclusions exhibited that bilinguals were more alacritous when compared to monolinguals at extricating their concentration from one trial, so that they could focus on the next trial. Bilinguals are definitely at a visible advantage as this ability contributes to lifelong cognitive health. But, there is an abundance of substantiation showing that cognitive decline is slower in bilinguals which brings us to another question: Do bilinguals also have an advantage when it comes to learning other languages?

Journey from bilingual to polylingual

It has been proven earlier in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition that bilinguals learn new languages much faster than monolinguals.

To concentrate on this exhaustively, scientists taught bilingual English and Mandarin speakers and monolingual English speakers an artificial language named Brocanto2. Using electroencephalograms, differences in the brain waves of both groups were found by scientists when they were listening to patterns in the language. A brainwave pattern of P600 (a pattern found when individuals process their own language) was shown by the bilingual people by the end of the training, whereas monolinguals started to display these P600 brain waves only by the end of the whole training session.

This study demonstrated that the brains of bilingual people are complex to understand, because no two individuals are alike nor are two bilinguals as well. Be that as it may, with expanding extravagance in this field, combined with an increase in the number of bilinguals in the general public, scientists are beginning to make swift progress on how this capacity influences the life-long intellectual capacities of the bilinguals and minds.

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