Essay on Effects of Bilingualism on the Human Brain

Published: 2021-07-07
1397 words
6 pages
12 min to read
George Washington University
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Humans are crude linguists from the moment of birth, unlike other living creatures they have a unique ability to speak more than one language. It is important to note that the learning process of these languages begins at birth and continues all the way until the person has fully mastered his/her respective language(s). People can speak several languages, however, there are some individuals who do not see the need of learning or teaching their children more languages. It is believed that limiting the number languages that one can speak would be considered to be equivalent to limiting the perception that the child or an individual may have concerning the world. Now, that we know human beings can speak more than one language, it is therefore imperative that we understand the intellectual and practical benefits of speaking several languages. Over the years, several studies have been conducted to determine the effects of speaking two or more languages on the human brain. And the most interesting thing about the outcomes of these studies is that they had the same conclusions which suggest that there are some advantages in speaking two or more languages which include protection of the brain from dementia in later life, improvement of analytical skills among others. In this context, we are going to analyze the articles of two authors (Jeffery Kluger &Maria Konnikova) regarding the effects of bilingualism on the human brain. Both of these authors have presented their thoughts on the advantages and the disadvantages of bilingualism, and we are going to contrast them and draw some conclusions from the two articles. Jeffery Kluger believes that bilinguals have more advantages than monolinguals while Maria Konikova explains that these advantages are neither global nor pervasive. Therefore, we are going to evaluate the ideas of these two authors, highlight the similarities and differences in their ideas, determine whose evidence is clearer and finally make a sound conclusion.

These two authors (Jeffery and Maria) have completely different attitudes and perspectives on the advantages of bilingualism on the human brain. Jeffery Kluger explains that there are some advantages which are specific to bilinguals while Maria Konikova asserts that these advantages have little impact and makes no difference between monolinguals and bilinguals. Jeffery Kluger explains that bilinguals often have greater analytic skills, and furthermore bilingual kids tend to exhibit social empathy sooner than children who grow up speaking one language, hence this shows that bilingualism has a developmental sense. On the other hand, Maria Konikova writes that bilinguals indeed have shown enhanced executive control characteristics which have been associated with better academic performances. In fact, she continues to explain that bilinguals have always stood out when it comes to qualities like switching between tasks and sustaining attention for a long time. Both Jeffrey Kluger and Maria Konikova agree that bilingualism protects human brains from dementia later in life. According to Jeffrey, bilinguals often endure the onset of age-related dementia 4.1 years later than monolinguals. Consequently, based on Maria Konikovas article those adults who speak multiple languages seem to resist the effects of dementia far better than monolinguals do.

The evidence from both authors indicates different results. For instance, Jeffrey Kluger explains that bilinguals tend to excel in Stroop test more than monolinguals. He uses an example of a multilingual school in France in which all of their students spoke French and at least 12 other languages. The author explains that closer analysis of the characteristics of students indicated that bilingual students showed greater facility with skills that relied on interpreting symbolic representations such as math. The other evidence that Kluger provides is the results of research carried out at the University of Kentucky which showed that bilinguals showed that bilinguals were faster as well as metabolically economical in executing the cognitive mission. On the other hand, Maria Konakova uses a case study of a person Angela de Bruin. Maria explains how de Bruin examined three different groups (English monolinguals, active English-Gaelic bilinguals, and passive English-Gaelic bilinguals). De Bruin presents several tasks to these groups in order to evaluate their differences. However, the results from nearly all the tasks given to these individuals indicated no difference between the groups. That is there was no advantage of bilinguals over the monolinguals. The authors also differ on some aspects of the benefits of bilingualism when it comes to cognitive functions. Kluger seems to fall on the side that supports the significance of bilingualism in improving the cognitive functions. Although he tried to explain the disadvantages associated with bilingualism, most of his opinions fall on the side for the argument. His ideas that bilingualism supports cognitive functions have been supported using more than one example. First, is the LFNY School where students performed better than their counterparts from the monolingual background? The second scenario is where he explains the study carried out by the University of Kentucky that also found that bilinguals were faster than monolinguals in executing cognitive missions (Kluger 127). Konnikova, on the other hand, seems to lean towards the side that counter-argues the statement that bilingualism is beneficial to the human brain. Although she also explains the side that supports the significance of bilingualism, her pessimistic attitude towards the significance of bilingualism in cognitive function of people is impossible to deny. She emphasizes on the study carried out by De Bruin that found that bilingualism has little relationship with the cognitive performance of speakers. She also draws her conclusion from this study that the advantages of bilingualism have been widely exaggerated by scholars that argue in support of the benefits it brings to the individuals cognitive development. Base on the study carried out by the University of Kentucky, Kluger argues that monolingual people are slower because they use more energy in the frontal cortex than the bilinguals who uses less energy to perform the cognitive tasks (127). This is quite the opposite to what Konnikova believes when she explains that bilingualism is associated with mental diseases such as Alzheimer and dementia (4). Konnikova argues that bilinguals are more diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer than monolinguals because they have a protective effect on the cognitive decline. Monolinguals have the ability to resist such mental diseases because the brain has more capacity to function at a higher level as compared to the bilinguals whose cognitive functions have been exhausted (Konnikova 4).

While Kluger agrees that bilingualism is important in the development of cognitive performance, Konnikova disagrees and claims that its benefits have just been overstated and overrated by scholars. Kluger expresses his strong belief that bilingualism can improve the brain function and can help in keeping the individual cognitively healthy (127). Konnikova, on the other hand, refutes such ideas claiming that it is the scholars that have overstated the significance of speaking more than one language. She expresses her dissatisfaction on the claims about the importance of bilingualism stating that the advantage may not appear in the exact guise researchers think of it today (Konnikova 5). Her opinion is clear in the discussion that she supports the side that disqualifies the benefits of bilingualism. Despite the differences in opinions, the authors close their discussions with open statements that no one is confined to a certain side of belief that bilingualism is beneficial or detrimental. They both come to terms with the idea that it is the responsibility of the audience to judge on what is best for him/her. However, with the modern society that is associated with globalization, limiting the mind to one specific language may be detrimental to the individual, not only cognitively but also economically, socially, culturally, and economically. People share ideas and cultures; however, this can be facilitated by knowing more than one language.

Based on the ideas presented by these two authors, we, therefore, conclude that bilingualism has some advantages on the human brain, although many people may not agree completely. All the way from how it protects the human brain from dementia to the way bilinguals tend to have better analytical skills this is just a few instances that show that bilingualism affects the human brain positively. However, some of the impacts of bilingualism are exaggerated. These two authors agree that there are some advantages of bilingualism but tend to disagree with some aspects.


Works Cited

Kluger, Jeffrey. Bilingual Mind: Understanding How the Brain Speaks Two Languages. The Time Magazine. 5, (2013).

Konnikova, Maria. "Is Bilingualism Really an Advantage?." The New Yorker 22 (2015).


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