Science, Tech & Environment

Is bilingual better?

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Michael Gumtau via Flickr

In this week's World in Words podcast, we consider the so-called bilingual advantage.

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The benefits of speaking two languages were barely researched until the 1960s. Now, hardly a month goes by without the publication of a new inquiry into the bilingual brain. One of the most influential of these studies found that bilinguals were more adept at staving off memory loss and other effects of the ageing brain. Researchers have also found other evidence of cognitive improvements among speakers of more than one language. 

There has been pushback from scholars who don't trust the methodology of these studies, or have been unable to reproduce the results, resulting in a nasty academic standoff.

There is also the occasional study that claims that speaking more than one language may actually be a disadvantage. 

So in the podcast, we checked out some opinion, both informed and uninformed. We also report from a couple of bilingual frontlines: places where there is both support for and resistance to bilingualism in their communities.  

Podcast Contents

00:00 In Dunstable, UK, a long-time resident views the influx of bilingual immigrants as an economic threat to monolingual locals. 

4:30 Ari Daniel tells Patrick about the connection between what's going on in the womb of a pregnant woman and the Australian soap opera, "Neighbours." 

6:00 What happens when you repeatedly play a soundfile that says "Tatata tatatata tatata" in the presence of a pregnant mother in her third trimester. 

8:45 "By the time a baby is born, they are not an inexperienced listener."

9:30 A study out of Vancouver, BC, seeks to discover whether babies at birth can differentiate between languages.

11:10 The parents realize "their babies' interest in the world around them and is interested in learning from the first moments in life." Read more about the Ari Daniel's reporting on in utero language acquisition studies here

12:10 Should Patrick award himself a gold star because he is raising his daughter to be bilingual? Does she have a bilingual edge?

13:25 Patrick and Nina talk bilingualism across continents and 11 time zones. 

15:00 Patrick talks about the trilingual schools of Friesland in the Netherlands.

16:15 Nina notices the Hawaiian language all over Hawaii, but how many fluent speakers are there? 

18:15 Patrick is a celebrity in Friesland

19:00 Nina is mesmerized by the ocean. Will she ever come back?

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National Endowment for the Humanities

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities