Bilinguals more adept in picking up foreign language

May 20th, 2009 - 2:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 20 (IANS) Bilingual people are more adept in picking up a foreign language than their monolingual counterparts, according to the latest research.
Their bilingual advantage persists even when the new language they study is completely different from the languages they already know.

And what is more, new research even indicates that onset of Alzheimer’s in bilinguals is, on the average, delayed by four years, as compared to monolinguals.

“It’s often assumed that individuals who’ve learned multiple languages simply have a natural aptitude for learning languages,” said Viorica Marian, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at Northwestern University (NU).

“While that is true in some cases, our research shows that the experience of becoming bilingual itself makes learning a new language easier,” said Marian.

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.

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

And they believe the bilingual advantage is likely to generalise beyond word learning to other kinds of language learning, including learning new words in one’s own language and a very basic 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.

Marian and Margarita Kaushanskaya, now assistant professor of communicative disorders at University of Wisconsin-Madison, co-authored “The Bilingual Advantage in Novel World Learning”.

What’s more, the majority of the world’s population outside the US is bilingual or multilingual, Marian noted. Sixty Northwestern students in early twenties participated in the study, said a NU release.

Their study is slated for publication in the August issue of Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

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