Multi-Language skills improve brain

Georgia Geen


Students take part of their French exam in Kara Bleecher’s class Photo by Fran McDaniel

¿Cómo se llama una persona que
habla tres lenguajes? Trilingue. ¿Cómo
se llama una persona que habla dos?
Bilingue. ¿Cómo se llama una persona
que habla uno? Un Estadounidense.
Now, for the English version, since
this is America: What do you call
someone who speaks three languages?
Trilingual. What do you call someone
who speaks two? Bilingual. What do
you call someone who speaks one? An
Americans are lucky in that we
don’t have to learn another language
to function in society. Since the con-
tinent is so geographically isolated,
there isn’t usually an immediate need
to learn a language other than Eng-
lish. Plus, it’s become an expectation
around the world that those with the
resources should learn English. But
why the sometimes blatant hostility
towards those who don’t speak our of-
ficial language?
English is already one of, or the only
official language of many countries and
the attachment to it that many Ameri-
cans have is a little ridiculous. Entering
the U.S as an immigrant with limited
English is challenging enough without
adding in the prejudice of xenophobic
In fact, such arrogant ideas about
English (and other dominant languag-
es) have resulted in the “extinction”
of many native languages, largely due
to neocolonialism, which consists of
the use of business globalization and
cultural imperialism. Globalization,
while a good thing in general, should
be approached cautiously, so as not to
endanger native and indigenous lan-
As anyone who has struggled
through six years of Spanish knows,
learning a second language is no easy
feat. Imagine having to learn English’s
simple, consistent grammar and spell-
ing in a short time. Exactly.
If multiple language acquisition
were encouraged among young chil-
dren, the country would see a wide
expanse of benefits. In young children,
the brain is less lateralized, meaning
the two hemispheres aren’t as strongly
defined. This means a child can use
both hemispheres of the brain when
acquiring language, rather than being
limited to the left hemisphere as adults
usually are.
Multilingual people are shown to
have a higher density of gray mat-
ter and neurons, which is science for
having a stronger brain. True, some
bilingual children are shown to have
a smaller vocabulary in both languages
than monolingual children, but within
a few years, they’ve caught up. After
years of switching back and forth be-
tween two or more languages, multi-
lingual brains are noticeably strength-
Beyond all of the personal benefits,
beyond the quantitative data, lie en-
tire cultures open to exploration and
understanding by those who compre-
hend the language. To say that every-
one should speak one language, or that
there’s no benefit to learning a second
language is dismissive of the bounty of
information that can be gleaned from a
culture via a simple translation.
The system of teaching languages
in the U.S. leaves most students with
a limited vocabulary and shaky confi-
dence in the language at best. Ameri-
can culture is blind to the benefits of
language acquisition, so students are
usually apathetic to the French, Span-
ish, Latin or German classes they have
to take. Spending a few hours a week
in a language class isn’t enough to be-
come fluent. Language classes should
start at a younger age so that students
can acquire the language more easily,
as well as gather a better appreciation
for it.


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