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Speaking two languages improves ability to focus on a task

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Posted September 13, 2016

Learning languages is an important part of person‘s education. Not only it helps people to travel and to learn more, but it can also be helpful seeking a career. Now scientists from the University of Birmingham have conducted a study, proving that ability to speak two languages enhances ability to maintain attention and focus.

Learning a new language is not only exciting and helpful in life, but also extremely beneficial for person’s cognitive abilities. Image credit: ish ishwar, derivative work: IM-yb via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Learning a new language is not only exciting and helpful in life, but also extremely beneficial for person’s cognitive abilities. Image credit: ish ishwar, derivative work: IM-yb via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Interestingly, scientists are not sure, why do bilinguals have this cognitive advantage. It could be because these people have developed an ability to suppress the stimuli, which are irrelevant at that particular time, or it could be because these people have enhanced attentional control abilities. Either way, it is clear that people speaking two languages have a certain cognitive advantage over the people who only speak one language. It is rather interesting how scientists figured it out.

Researchers asked 99 people to complete the Simon task, the Spatial Stroop task and the Flanker task. 48 participants were English-Chinese bilingual, others only spoke one language. In the Flanker task they had to determine, which way the central arrow is pointing in a long row of arrows. In the Spatial Stroop task there was only one arrow, but it would appear on one or the other side of the screen, which sometimes would help and sometimes would get in a way. In the Simon task there were single blue or red squares instead of arrows.

Scientists found that bilinguals did not have as many very slow responses as monolinguals, meaning that they can focus better. Dr Andrea Krott, one of the authors of the study, said: “Together with other evidence, our research suggests that the lifetime task of switching between languages appears to enhance the ability to maintain attention”. Scientists say that it is already proven that speaking a new language changes the structure in the brain. Therefore, now they will attempt seeing how these changes affect person’s behaviour.

This is a very interesting study, proving something we felt we knew for quite some time. Knowing languages is extremely beneficial. Although English is a dominant language in the world, even these people, who have English as their mother tongue, should put efforts into learning speaking in a foreign language.

Source: birmingham.ac.uk

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