Is it an advantage to grow up with two languages? Or is it a disadvantage?

In this article, studies on being bilingual are discussed. The positive and negative aspects of growing up with two languages ​​are discussed. In addition, the change in having more than one language on fmri images was also examined.

The Effect of Bilingual on the Brain

With the technological developments in the last century, changes have occurred in the structures of trade, communication and culture. While people used to be able to communicate only with their neighbors and immediate surroundings, thanks to these technological developments, they have become able to communicate with people thousands of kilometers away from themselves. So, is this only possible thanks to technology? It would be unfair to attribute this role entirely to technology. Apart from technological developments, changes have also occurred in the language and usage, which is the most basic element of communication. English, which was decided to be the scientific language, can be given as an example. Millions of people are learning English even though their mother tongue is not English. Parents are also aware of this necessity and seek to teach their children a second or even a third language at an early age. So, are two languages ​​useful for our children?

First, let’s start with what “language” is. Language learning and cognitive skills go hand in hand. As a 1-month-old baby cannot be expected to read, individuals acquire language skills with age. The interesting point is; each individual has the ability to speak all the languages ​​used in the world when he is born, but the language used in the environment where he grew up and the language used by the people he takes as a model, the language skills of the individual and the larynx and mouth structure according to that language are affirmed with that language. He/she has the speaking skills required by the mother tongue rather than his/her ability to other languages. If French is spoken around the individual and all communication channels to which he or she is exposed are in French, this individual will speak French. That is, his native language will be French. While it may sound advantageous, is this always the case? Before that, let’s model the brain for better understanding. In this model, let the human brain be a computer. As you know, computers are a collection of inputs and outputs. If this is adapted to the brain; Sources such as sound and light, called stimuli, shape the human brain. Input is the richness of the language spoken around the individual and the amount of communication that is attempted to be established with the individual. The output is the language development of the individual. To generalize, the more stimulus an individual is exposed to, the more his cognitive skills will improve.

Condition in the brain; When the brain activity of bilinguals and monolinguals was compared, according to O. Potzl’s research (1930), the following results emerged;

While bilinguals speak, activity in the left hemisphere of the brain, which is related to language skills, has increased, but the same increase has been observed in the left hemisphere of polyglots, as well as in vocalization patterns (Lingualego, 2014).

In the temporal (lower) region of the brain, more activity was observed in bilingual individuals (Lingualego, 2014).

These bilingual individuals are also divided into two,

1. Spontaneously bilingual (individuals who are bilingual at birth).

2. Those who are bilingual in the early stages, that is, individuals who acquire two languages ​​​​from the environment or through education.

3. Those who are bilingual in the late stage, that is, individuals who migrate to another country later on.

These three types of language learning have different outcomes. Although it is known that language learning is divided into bilingualism and monolingualism, bilingualism is also divided within itself and this affects the advantages of bilingualism. In the continuation of the article, information will be given about the 3rd type, “late stage bilingual individuals”.

In order to see the stages better, Professor of Speech and Linguistics Patricia Kuhl organized an experiment. In the experiment, gray matter in the brain was observed. The reason for observing gray matter is because axons responsible for intra-brain transmission come together. This observation was made with the DTI technique (Karabulut,2018).

Regions closely related to FA (left) and RD (right): Red color, speech-related areas; yellow color indicates the areas associated with the listening province.

The molecules sent in the DTI test are like water droplets and are distributed to the brain. When examining this distribution, gray matter (FA) flow to one side and flow (RD) to the other side are taken as reference in a healthy brain (Karabulut,2018).

A lower RD flow was observed with more FA flow in bilinguals. Although bilingualism seems to be disadvantageous when evaluated in this way, the reality is not like that. When compared to the time spent listening and speaking, bilinguals spend less time (Karabulut,2018).

When the individuals participating in this study were examined closely, it was noticed that the individuals selected as bilingual were immigrants. Monolingual individuals are not immigrants. This, in turn, is a sign that language is not the only criterion or the only determining factor in brain development. Heredity and environment are also effective in language development (Karabulut, 2018).

As stated at the beginning of the article, even being exposed to enough correct stimuli affects language development. As an additional improvement, bilingual children compared to monolingual children; Having more words covering an object increases their cognitive skills (Konuk, 2012).

Dementia is a loss of function in the nervous system responsible for nerve conduction. If environmental factors are excluded, Alzheimer’s disease is often the cause of Dementia. Magali Perquin conducted a research on cognitive skills, that is, bilingualism and prevention of dementia. In the study, the cognitive skills of bilinguals and people who speak more than two languages ​​were examined and individuals who knew more than two languages ​​were ahead in terms of brain and cognitive health (Konuk, 2012).

Considering all the results, individuals who use more than one language have differences in cognition, speaking and learning. The conclusion to be drawn here does not mean that bilingualism protects individuals completely cognitively and puts them ahead. As can be seen in Kohl’s study, even sociodemographic structure is effective on people’s cognition skills. Another example of this effect is that the children of individuals who have immigrated to France cannot learn their mother tongue and cannot learn the second language adequately. The main reason for these results is sociodemographic factors (Gürbüz, 2017). Commin’s (2014) semi-linguistic theory also proves this situation. In other words, learning a second language depends on learning the first language well. As a result, although the effect of bilingualism on cognitive skills is seen, the advantage of bilingualism is seen in culture and economy. Parents will continue to attach importance to learning more than one language in the rest of this century due to the fact that people who speak more than one language are exposed to more cultures and the vocabulary is more developed and commercial concerns. Being bilingual is not only an advantage, but also problems such as semi-lingualism may arise due to poorly planned education and sociodemographic factors.

Thank you for reading my article.

-Ozgu Akgun


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