Did you know that approximately 60 -75% of the world is bilingual? The high percentage isn’t really surprising when globalisation has enabled people to move around more easily. A couple of years ago a friend of mine posted a video on my facebook about bilingualism. Both she and I grew up bilingually, and watching a video where acclaimed scholars spoke about the relationship between one language and the other was really eye opening. Actually, I believe it changed the way I looked at these languages, as trying to work out which language was my mother tongue was quite confusing. Some people would tell me one thing and other would tell me the opposite. The main message that I got from the video was that bilingual children would always separate their two languages; one of their languages would be associated with family and childhood and the other language would be connected to day-to-day life. This explained it all.
There is a common myth that in bilingualism the individual has to be equally as fluent in both languages but this is not the case. A bilingual individual will always have a dominant language and this will also be known as their mother tongue. So how can you tell which language is dominant? You can tell this quite easily – your dominant language is the one you are most comfortable using and more educated in. It is said that the vocabulary of a bilingual speaker of one language will not be as rich as a monolingual speaker. Nevertheless, bilingual speakers will have an accumulated vocabulary in both languages that matches the richness of the vocabulary a monolingual speaker knows. It is probably for this reason that some parents who have immigrated avoid teaching their children their family’s language – the fear of confusion.
Parents often panic when bilingual children start mixing words from one language with the other but ‘code mixing’, as it is called, is believed to be a natural part of being bilingual. In fact, to some researchers code mixing is a sign of bilingual proficiency. Sometimes code-mixing can be a way of bilingual speakers compensating the fact they do not know one word in one language so they use the other language. Perhaps this is part of the reason why many languages have fragmented and formed new derivations like Spanglish/Espanglish. Some people view this fragmentation of languages in a negative light but we should be proud that languages are converging in such a way, indicating an increase of bilingual/multilingual speakers across the world.
There are various advantages in being bilingual, some of which are highlighted below:
It is believed that bilingual children are better at ignoring any distractions and focusing on the things at hand.
- Bilinguals are believed to be more creative and better at planning as well as solving complex problems.
- Research has shown that the aging effects on the brain are experienced later in bilinguals than monolinguals. For instance, a study demonstrated that dementia occurred four years later in bilinguals than in monolinguals.
- Bilinguals/ multilinguals have more languages at their disposal as well as resources.
- Generally, it is assumed that bilingual individuals earn more money when in employment.
BUT what if you forget one of your languages? Due to the huge cognitive advantages that being bilingual have on your brain, a trace of a lost language will always be engraved in your brain. This is because from a young age, a child makes representations of sounds associated with a language but even after the language is lost, the child will have the same brain activation as a monolingual speaker of that ‘lost’ language. This new discovery has opened questions related to the relearning of this ‘lost’ language as well as the influence that this has on the individual’s development. However, if there is still a trace of the language then does this really mean it is a ‘lost’ language? And is the answer to the relearning question not as simple as saying that relearning the language would be like relearning how to ride a bike or drive after not doing so for a while? What do you all think?
Remember the world is your oyster to all you language speakers. Keep up the learning; it will be worth it scientifically as well as personally 😉