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Bilingualism is the capacity to communicate fluently in two languages. The word can also be used to identify someone who learns a foreign language and can create logical sentences in the new language's style. Currently, a significant portion of the world's population is bilingual; this trait increases cognitive growth and improves connectivity through communities (Edwards 2-3). Language does not occur in and of itself; it is the general activity that is important in a given society. Language is one of the elements that characterize a society. When a human processes a language, it is paired with both affective and cognitive processes. There are two levels of language processing: the formal and the functional level. At the functional level, the individual understands the meanings and objectives. At the formal level, the surface forms are learned. The function is essential in the evolution of specific kinds of a language with time and how parents utilize the forms and inherited by children.
Bilingualism affects the cognitive process: it enhances cognitive development and reduced cognitive decline. Children are the best subjects for researching bilingual individuals. Bilingual children receive twice the amount of linguistic input that monolingual children get; however, they still have the different linguistic achievements at around the same age. Bilingualism does not inhibit the child’s ability to develop in a language. Cognitive flexibility is higher in bilingual than monolingual children. In adults, the control of language is determined by the frequency of switching from one language to another. The constant practice of switching from one language to the next present bilingual adults with an advantage in task switching. An individual with proficiency in multiple languages needs higher stages of activation and inhibition each time they transition from an expression. Golan and Prior experimented to investigate this fact. They compared two groups: Spanish English speakers who switched languages often and Mandarin-English speakers who did not switch languages frequently. The group of Spanish-English speakers obtained better switch scores than their competitors (Woumans 27). The Mandarin-English speakers got the same score as monolingual individuals. Bilinguals can adapt to a new situation presented to them by the interactional context. Translators are another group that has highly developed cognitive functioning due to their ability to listen to and comprehend one language and translates it to another without making mistakes. The management of these processes gives translators and interpreters a cognitive boost. A Wisconsin card Sorting Test revealed that interpreters have more cognitive flexibility than bilinguals and monolinguals.
Researchers have also investigated the effect of bilingualism and quantitative abilities and concepts. Scholars had discovered that most bilingual students have a better grasp and understanding of mathematical concepts compared to their monolingual colleagues when the questions were presented in the form of digits. However, they indicated a slight struggle if the questions were written in their weaker language due to slower brain processing. This weakness could only be spotted if the bilingual students learned their second language later in their lives. Tsivkin and Spelde conducted a study in which they taught bilinguals how to perform mathematical operations in both languages and tested them (Bialystok 420-425). Results showed that the subjects performed better in transactions involving large numbers in the language in which the problem was taught. Therefore, the style of training is also a significant factor when it comes to solving arithmetic problems. For example, a Mandarin-English speaking child living in America will perform better when solving a mathematical problem in English even if Mandarin is his/her first language.
Studies have also been carried out on children’s comprehension of cardinality using two tasks: towers task and sharing task. In the towers task, the researchers showed children piles of Duplo blocks and Lego blocks. The two sets of blocks were identical only that the size of the Duplo blocks was twice as big as the Lego blocks. Every block was assumed to be an apartment that a family can reside in regardless of the difference in size. The next step was constructing apartment buildings using both types of blocks and asking the children who block could sustain more families. We asked the children to count the blocks in each tower. The Duplo tower had fewer blocks but was the same height as the Lego tower. The children had to ignore the height factor and concentrate on the number of blocks making up each tower to pass the test; this task was very challenging. However, more bilingual than monolingual children got the correct answer. In task sharing, researchers gave the children two similar dolls and candy and asked them to divide equally between the two dolls. Once this step was complete, they were asked to count the number of candy in the first doll’s pile then say the number in the second doll’s pile without counting. Monolingual and bilingual children recorded the same performance in this task. The towers task contains distracting information; therefore, the respondent has to think logically to get the correct answer. Bilingual children were able to ignore the irrelevant information and count the number of blocks thus indicating better cognitive development.
However, some researchers do not agree with the fact that bilinguals have a better ability to solve arithmetic problems than their monolingual counterparts. They have limited but consistent proof that bilingual adults have difficult time-solving problems than monolingual individuals, especially in their weaker language (Khan 154). Goggin and Geary claimed that this was because the respondents solved the issues verbally and mediated the operations in another language proved to be difficult. They gave the participants answers to the arithmetic problems, and the respondents were required to decide whether or not the answers were correct. If the respondents were required to use verbal mediation, they would solve the problems more efficiently in their stronger languages. When researchers eliminated the language component, they did not find an overall difference in the time taken by bilinguals and monolinguals in solving the problems. They carried out a follow-up study in which they divided the time spent explaining the problem into the duration of encoding and retrieving the question and the length of computing the solution. The realized that the encoding time was the same for both groups, but monolingual individuals performed computed the operations faster than their monolingual counterparts.
The differences were also spotted in simple mathematical tasks (Choy 25). The research was carried out where bilingual adults were required to count backward and forwards in two languages. The subjects were fluent in Portuguese and English. The researchers first asked them to list a few words in both languages to rest their proficiency; they then timed the respondents as they counted forwards and backward in the two languages. In computing forward, there was no significant difference in the time taken in both languages. However, in calculating backward, the duration was longer for the participants’ weaker language.
Bilingual people record netter performances in tasks that require decision making. When they are asked to match a color to a word (red, green, yellow, etc.) they do it without hesitation. The task becomes challenging when the name of the color (red) is written in another color (blue). The brain has another task of ignoring the irrelevant word and pay attention to the color. The ability to concentrate on the relevant information and ignore the perceptual facts is known as inhibitory control (Shook 23).
There is a high probability of the reduction in language control as individual ages. However, reports show that bilinguals have better control than monolinguals in non-linguistic situations. Bilinguals who change their language frequently also perform better than those who change languages less regularly. A study was carried out using the Simon Task on 104 bilingual and monolingual middle-aged and fifty aged adults. The middle-aged persons were between 30 and 59 years old while the aged were between 60 and 88 (Ivanova 90-93). The task measures the participants’ reaction time to new information and the cognitive processing aspects that deteriorate with age. The participants viewed flashing squares on a screen and were asked to press a specified color key the moment they located a square at a specific position on the screen. Half of the squares representing one key were placed on one the left side of the screen while the other half serving the other key was placed on the right. In order to test the speed of the subjects, the researchers introduced a condition that increased the number of stimuli from 2 to 4 flashing squares. Results indicated that bilingual individuals had faster responses even when the stimuli were placed at the center of the screen instead of the left and right sides. In both age groups, the bilinguals were faster and the speed did not result in distraction from the incongruent items; this shows that bilingual adults have a cognitive advantage over monolingual adults. The researchers argue that the ability to focus one stimulus and ignore irrelevant information might involve the same cognitive processes used to switch from one language to another.
In a study to test the working memory of aged individuals, the subjects were tested individually using the Shipley Vocabulary Test; the test contains four multiple choices with forty items to complicate the test. The alpha and the memory span tasks were utilized to test the span of the verbal memory. Every task was comprised of fourteen lists of concrete nouns whose length varied between two and eight words; there were two lists of every length. The participant read the words at the speed of a word per second, starting with the shorter to the more extended words; they then repeated the words in the original order (Luo 30). In the alpha task, the subjects were required to arrange the words in alphabetical order. In order to test the spatial memory span of the subjects, the researchers used the Corsi blocks test. Ten blue blocks were placed on a white surface and marked from one to ten; only the experimenter was able to view the numbers. The researcher then selected the blocks in a predetermined order at one tap per second. The participants were asked to repeat the order of tapping in the forward and reverse sequences; the experimenter stopped them when they got the sequence wrong. The results showed that monolingual subjects had better scores in verbal span tests, but bilinguals scored better on spatial tests (Luo 32). The better performance in spatial tasks can be attributed to the fact that working memory activities require control and bilinguals have more experience in this field. Monolinguals have a better grasp of vocabulary than bilinguals in their strong language. The reason is not language proficiency but because they have to control the conflict between the two styles they are fluent in.
An experiment was carried out to investigate the response of bilinguals to emotional words presented in their two languages. All the participants were fluent in Chinese and English; they also learned their second language by the age of seven. They were presented with random words on a paper and inquired to provide a rating of the arousal and valence of the specified words utilizing the 9-point Self-Assessment Manikin gauge (SAM). Hence, the nine points on the scales were represented by various looks that ranged from sleepy faces (1) to a face with wide eyes (9) for the arousal scale and a frowning face to a sleepy face for the valence scale. Every participant viewed the word once; half of the words were in English while the rest was in Chinese (Ong 39). The results indicated higher valence ratings for positive English than Chinese words and lower valence for negative English than Chinese translations. Adverse Chinese connotations had higher arousal ratings as compared to the English words; for positive words, English words had higher arousal ratings that the Chinese translations. These results show that language does not affect emotional development; the nature of the language is an essential factor in determining emotional reactions.
Bilingual participants also went through an emotional Stroop task in another study. They viewed both neutral and emotional words and mentioned the colors the words were written in. Emotional words caused a slower response compared to neutral words; meaning that they are processed deeply hence interfere with mentioning of colors. Sutton discovered that the reactions of persons fluent in both Spanish and English reacted slower to emotional than neutral words regardless of the language used (Freeman 15). These findings indicate that emotion processing in bilinguals is complex in both languages. As much as emotion processing may be faster in the first language, the intensity or arousal of these emotions may be the same in the two languages. Balanced bilinguals process information in both languages at the same rate while unbalanced bilinguals show weakness in the second language.
In conclusion, being bilingual is not only about speaking a language but also the aspect of emotional comprehension and adopting the culture and gesture of the two languages. A balanced bilingual must be able to transition smoothly from one language to another. This ability to switch languages is reflected in other aspects of bilinguals’ lives. Experiments show that they have a more developed cognitive ability to switch from one activity to the next compared to monolinguals. They also have a better understanding of simple arithmetic problems compared to monolinguals; however unbalanced bilinguals have a harder time than monolinguals when solving problems in their weak language. Emotional arousal in bilinguals is affected by the nature of the language as well as the individual’s proficiency in the languages. Unbalanced bilinguals respond to emotions at a slower rate in their weaker language than the first one.
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Choy, Yessica Yang. "Does Bilingualism Improve Academic Performance?" 2016.
Edwards, John. "Bilingualism and Multilingualism: Some Central Concepts." 2013.
Freeman, Max R., Anthony Shook & Viorica Marian. "Cognitive and Emotional Effects of Bilingualism in Adulthood." 2013.
Ivanova, Iva, Mayra Murillo & Tamar H.Gollan. "Does Bilingual Language Control Decline in Older Age?" Linguistic approaches to bilingualism (2016): 86-112.
Khan, Tahir Jahan & Nasrullah. "Obstacles in Learning English as a Second Language among Intermediate Students of Districts Mianwali and Bhakkar, Pakistan." Open Journal of Social Sciences (2016).
Luo, Lin. "Bilingualism Interacts With Domain in a Working Memory Task: Evidence From Aging." 2012.
Ong, Elsie, Samara Hussain, Yvonne Chow & Catherine Thompson. "Variations in Bilingual Processing of Positive and Negative Information." 2017.
Shook, Viorica Marian & Anthony. "The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual." Cerebrum (2012): 20-32.
Woumans, Evy. "Cognitive Control Throughout the Bilingual Lifespan." Effects of Bilingualism on Cognition. 2015. 26-28.
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