I remember there was a kid from Germany named Mark in my kinder garden back in China when I was about four or five years old. Him being the only foreign child in my class had always been a novelty to us. Although we have lost contact for almost 2 decades, I still remember that I was very good friend with him. As a kinder garden child, I did not know a word in English or German but only spoke formal Mandarin, so we communicated in Mandarin when I was hanging out with the German kid. When he talked, he sounded just like a native-born Chinese kid, without any German accent. Therefore, disregarding his blonde hair, we considered him as one of us and treated him without any specialty. Until one day his parents showed up after school to pick him up, they spoke German in front all of us and all the kids in kinder garden were shocked and surprised by how that could possibly happen. On the day after that, we all went to him and asked him a bunch of questions such as what kind of language was that, why did they not speak Mandarin like us and how could he spoke both languages without any conflict. And that was my first personal experience with bilingualism.
This week of class, we covered the module—Bilingualism, like other international students, I feel strongly related to this topic; I started learning alphabets in the first grade but no one in my class really took it as seriously as Math and Chinese until middle school. And then in high school, I kind of knew that I was going to a English-speaking country for college, so I started putting a lot more effort into studying English than before. I always thought my English was decent before I came to UNH and met all my American friends in my dorm. At first they were nice to me and tried to be patient and understood what I was saying, but after we became closer and closer, they started to make fun of my accent and told me how bad my English really was. For most people, their feelings would have been hurt and stopped hanging out with the natives. However, for me, I never felt sad for one second and was always humble and grateful when they were making of me while correcting my pronunciations and the grammar mistakes when I was speaking. After years of experiencing bilingualism, I sensed that I developed a better brain function. In other words, I became smart and I think faster.
According to Bialystok (1999), Bilingual children develop language control earlier than monolingual children. To confirm his statement, he conducted an experiment; he selected 30 bilingual children and 30 monolingual children, assigned them with some tasks designed to examine the level of their language control. Unsurprisingly, the results showed that bilingual children completed the tasks better and have more advanced control compare with monolingual children (Bialystok, 1999).
On the other hand, being bilingual not only benefits children but also adults. Soveri et al(2011) conducted a research showed a similar discussion; bilingual adults tend to have faster reaction in response times and are better at ignoring unnecessary spatial information. This evidence showed that bilingualism in adults can help people to have a better attention when focusing which is also the goal of conducting these research.
In conclusion, bilingualism benefits both children and adults in our language-related cognitive system.
Bialystok, E. (1999). Cognitive complexity and attentional control in the bilingual
mind. Child Development, 70, 636–644.
Soveri, A., Laine, M., Hamalainen, H., & Hugdahl, K. (2011). Bilingual advantage in
attentional control: Evidence from the forced-attention dichotic listening
paradigm. Biligualism: Language and Cognition, 14, 371–378.