PerspectiveSocial Science

The Benefits of Multilingualism

Science  15 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6002, pp. 332-333
DOI: 10.1126/science.1195067

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Summary

Multilingualism—the ability to understand and speak several languages—is exceptional in the United States but common elsewhere, especially in small-scale traditional societies. For instance, once while I was camped with some New Guinea Highlanders conversing simultaneously in several local languages, I asked each man to name each language in which he could converse. It turned out that everyone present spoke at least 5 languages, and the champion was a man who spoke 15. What are the cognitive effects of such multilingualism? Recent studies (15) show that children raised bilingually develop a specific type of cognitive benefit during infancy, and that bilingualism offers some protection against symptoms of Alzheimer's dementia in old people.