Bilingual people better at learning foreign languages than monolinguals

May 20th, 2009 - 5:31 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 20 (ANI): If you speak two languages, then it would be easier for you to learn the nuances of a new foreign language than your monolingual counterparts, according to a study by Northwestern University researchers.

And this bilingual advantage persists even when the new language being studied is completely different from the languages one already know.

“It’s often assumed that individuals who’ve learned multiple languages simply have a natural aptitude for learning languages. While that is true in some cases, our research shows that the experience of becoming bilingual itself makes learning a new language easier,” said Viorica Marian, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at Northwestern University.

For the study, researchers asked three groups of native English speakers — English-Mandarin bilinguals, English-Spanish bilinguals and monolinguals — to master words in an invented language that bore no relationship to English, Spanish or Mandarin.

And it was found that the bilingual participants — whether English-Mandarin or English-Spanish speakers - mastered nearly twice the number of words as the monolinguals.

Thus, the researchers believe that the bilingual advantage is likely to generalize beyond word learning to other kinds of language learning, including learning new words in one’s own language and the ability to maintain verbal information.

“After learning another language, individuals can transfer language learning strategies they’ve acquired to subsequent language learning and become better language learners in general,” said Marian.

The study has important implications for educators who are considering the appropriate age at which to introduce foreign language instruction, and also for parents who have an option to enroll their children in dual language immersion programs.

“We’re seeing that exposure to two languages early in life carries far-reaching benefits. Our research tells us that children who grow up with two languages wind up being better language learners later on,” said a co-author of the study.

Titled ‘The Bilingual Advantage in Novel World Learning’, the study will be published in the August issue of Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. (ANI)

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