Benefits of being Multilingual

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Writing again today on one of my favorite topics: languages 🙂

I’d like to reiterate again that it’s essential for Indians to learn at least one Indian language proficiently, in addition to English. And, if they’re in an environment where they’re exposed to more than one Indian language, they should try to pick up as many as they can. Picking up languages is a very easy task when you are a kid, and parents must motivate their kids.

This is nothing very surprising, it’s already happening in many places. Around the world, more than half the world’s population – estimates vary from 60 to 75 percent – speaks at least two languages! Many countries other than India have more than one official national language, for example, South Africa has eleven! Most South Africans can speak 3-5 languages!

I was lucky to grow up in Bangalore because I was exposed to English and Hindi (in school) and Telugu, Kannada, and Tamil (in my house and neighborhood). As a result of this, it was very easy to get some proficiency in all five languages. Bangalore is situated at the border of three states – Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, so it’s a particularly great and multilingual place to grow up in 🙂 Many research studies have demonstrated that multilingualism has many advantages. Some advantages include: being able to learn new words effortlessly, being more creative, having better problem-solving skills and better communication skills.

Moreover surprisingly, researchers are finding a lot of health benefits that result from speaking more than one language, including faster stroke recovery and delayed onset of dementia! In fact, one interesting experiment proved that even infants benefit from bilingual exposure! In a study in Italy, 7-month-old babies exposed to two languages from birth were compared with other babies raised with one language. In an initial set of trials, the infants were presented with an audio clue and then shown a puppet on one side of a screen. Both infant groups learned to look at that side of the screen in anticipation of the puppet.

But in a later set of trials, when the puppet began appearing on the opposite side of the screen, the babies exposed to a bilingual environment quickly learned to switch their gaze in the new direction, while the other babies did not! Cognitive neuropsychologist Jubin Abutalebi (University of San Raffaele in Milan), says it’s possible to distinguish bilingual people from monolinguals simply by looking at their brain scans. He says that “Bilingual people have significantly more grey matter.” It has also been observed that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Given all these proven benefits of multilingualism, I think it’s worthwhile for Indians to make some effort to learn Indian languages.

References: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-benefits-of-bilingualism.html?_r=0 http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160811-the-amazing-benefits-of-being-bilingual

Fan, Samantha P., Zoe Liberman, Boaz Keysar, and Katherine D. Kinzler (2015), “The Exposure Advantage: Early Exoposure to a Multilingual Environment Promotes Effective Communication,” Psychological Science, 26 (7), 1090-1097.

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