#bilinguismo aiuta nella prevenzione dell’ #alzheimer

Tre articoli su un recente lavoro del biologo e fisiologo Jared Diamond sui benedici del bi/multi-linguismo nella prevenzione della demenza senile e alzheimer.

In prima battuta una sintesi in italiano tratta dal domenicale del Sole 24 ore

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Proseguiamo con due articoli che riprendono e analizzano la tesi di Diamond.

Benefits of Being Bilingual di Reshma Jirage

The ability to converse in two languages is known as bilingualism. People who are adept at speaking two languages enjoy certain advantages over their monolingual counterparts.

In a modern world like ours, it has become commonplace for people to know more than one language. It isn’t uncommon to come across bilinguals who, not only have a command over their first or native language but are also fluent in a second, vernacular or foreign language as well.

According to common underlying proficiency (CUP) model of language processing, even though the database of different languages is interconnected in our minds, it is stored in separate compartments and thus does not interfere or encroach upon the other.

Thereby, making it possible for bilinguals to switch between two languages with equal ease and fluency. Research has revealed that the practice of bilingualism is beneficial in the following ways.

Advantages of Bilingualism

Cognitive Benefits
➜ A bilingual individual’s brain has two active language systems which work simultaneously without hindering the performance of other. Thus, ensuring that the brain is always exercising both its linguistically oriented cognitive functions.

➜ Bilinguals are also able to conjure multiple phrases or words for each idea and object. While coming up with the words, bilinguals will think in both languages and thereafter choose the most appropriate options. Monolinguals on the other hand utilize their limited reservoir of words.

➜ General reasoning and ability to conceptualize among bilinguals improves drastically when advanced linguistic skills such as code-switching, accent neutralization, and syntax appropriation are acquired. This ability to grasp and improve, makes it easier for bilinguals to learn newer languages and evolve into multilingual speakers.

➜ Cognitive flexibility also improves through divergent and convergent thinking, wherein the speaker builds on a single idea and derives a suitable conclusion after scrutinizing various arguments. This ability has been attributed to parallel data processing.

➜ Bilingual speakers develop metalinguistic awareness and can differentiate between the implied and literal meaning of words and phrases. Such people can think beyond labels, symbols, and language structure because their minds are not restrained to think in a single language.

➜ While conversing with others, a bilingual will automatically switch to the language which is understood by the listener so as to ease the flow of communication. Whereas, monolinguals would be forced to converse in the only language they know.

➜ Being bilingual has a positive effect on intellectual growth as well. It helps enhance and enrich a person’s mental development and awareness, because the rate of language assimilation, retentivity, and grasping of phonetics is higher among bilinguals as compared to monolinguals.

Academic Benefits
➜ Research has revealed that bilingual and multilingual individuals tend to perform better in competitive examinations. It is believed that bilinguals fare better at IQ tests because of their ability to think of multiple possible scenarios, so as to derive a suitable conclusion.

➜ Bilinguals find it easier to learn new languages and thus fare better in immersion programs.

➜ Bilinguals are also able to understand and appreciate the literature and discourses of their second language.

Benefits for Kids
➜ Kids have a natural aptitude for picking up new words and sounds because of the vast spectra of lingual inputs they are exposed to.

➜ They can easily break down words into its component sounds and therefore categorizing words comes naturally to them. It is easier for bilingual children to detect rhyming words. Their responses can also be equally fast in both the languages.

➜ According to the renowned Canadian psychologist Ellen Bialystok, bilingual children are better at solving verbal and nonverbal problems that contain misleading and confusing aspects.

➜ Bialystok’s research also revealed that bilingual children were better at detecting grammatical errors and extracting words from continuous verbal sentences.

➜ Such children also fared better in reading and verbal skills as compared to monolingual children.

➜ In her research paper, ‘Reshaping the Mind: The Benefits of Bilingualism’, Ellen Bialystok states that bilinguals outperform monolinguals in tasks based on applying executive control.

Health Benefits of Bilingualism
➜ Research has suggested that elderly bilinguals have more cognitive control as compared to monolinguals.

➜ According to a study by UCLA Professor Jared Diamond, children who grow up in a bilingual family have lesser chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

➜ In yet another study of Spanish-English bilinguals, scientists of the University of California found that they were more resistant to such diseases than their monolingual counterparts. Their research also revealed that the age of onset of Alzheimer’s is directly proportionate to the degree of bilingualism.

The Character/ Personality Advantage
Bilinguals are able to emote better. Their temperament is generally adaptive and they can be more genial, as compared to single language speakers. With increased familiarity of dialects, they find greater confidence and sense of self-esteem.

The Cultural Advantage
Bilingualism offers greater exposure to different cultures and builds bridges between them. Knowledge of different languages entails a treasure of traditional and contemporary sayings, idioms, history, folk stories, music, movies, literature, and poetry of different countries and cultures. An extensive cultural experience also creates greater tolerance, open-mindedness, and appreciation.

The Employment Advantage
Bilinguals are preferred over monolinguals for jobs that require them to travel extensively or communicate with a wider group of people. Individuals who are proficient in a foreign language can work as translators, diplomats, teachers, doctors, etc. Employing bilinguals also helps in exploring new avenues and pooling in new clients from around the word. Bilingual and multilingual employees can also help in training new members when the need arises.

The biggest advantage of being bilingual is that the individual gets to be a part of two diverse communities without feeling excluded. Whereas, it can be extremely challenging for monolinguals to step out of their comfort zone and communicate with people who do not speak the same language as them.

Jared Diamond, A New Guinea Campfire, And Why We Should Want To Speak Five Languages


Chances are they already speak more languages than you: children from Papua New Guinea’s Andai tribe of hunter-gatherers wait for their parents to vote in the village of Kaiam. Over 800 languages are spoken in PNG, a country of about six million people.

Some years ago, Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steelwas sitting around a campfire in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. He’d recently had a conversation with a New Guinea friend who spoke a total of eight languages: five were local to the friend’s village and the friend had just picked them up as a child, the other three he learned in school.

Diamond tried a simple experiment. He asked the number of languages spoken by each of the 20 New Guineans gathered around the fire with him. The smallest number, he reports in his new book The World Until Yesterday, was five. “Several men,” he wrote, “spoke from eight to 12 languages, and the champion was a man who spoke 15.” These weren’t dialects, but mutually unintelligible languages.

The World Until Yesterday

So here’s my question to you: When was the last time you encountered a person here in the United States who speaks a dozen languages — or even “just” five?

I’m no linguistic whiz myself. My French is mired at the high-school level, sufficient only for terse, present-tense conversations. My Swahili is limited to extremely useful phrases from my fieldwork days, like Wapi nyani leo? (Where are the baboons today?) Although learn-Italian-now tapes are strewn around my house, my progress in that language comes in fits and starts.

A person like me would be an anomaly in many of the small-scale societies that Diamond writes about. The thesis of The World Until Yesterday is that we in industrialized societies have much to learn from people who make (or recently made) their living by hunting-and-gathering or small-scale farming. (In a later post, I’ll return to this overall theme of the book.) Knowing several languages is one of Diamond’s prime examples.

In places like New Guinea, people in adjacent communities often speak completely different tongues. “To trade, to negotiate alliances and access to resources, and (for many traditional people) even to obtain a spouse and to communicate with that spouse requires being not merely bilingual but multilingual,” Diamond explains.

Is our country really so mono-lingual? Earlier this week, I queried linguist Dennis Baron on this point. “Census figures from the 2009 American Community Survey,” Baron told me, “show about 20 percent of residents over age five speak a language other than English at home. Most of them also speak at least some English, and those who don’t are learning it.”

Perhaps two percent of U.S. speakers of languages other than English don’t speak English itself, so we can estimate that about 18 percent of Americans are bilingual. (We don’t even reliably track how many people speak more than two languages, Baron says.)

Of course 18 percent isn’t an insignificant part of the population, but let’s consider the context for this number. “Over time,” Baron noted, “today’s bilinguals will likely slip into monolingual English use, or their children will.” Bilingualism just isn’t welcomed here with open arms.

As Baron put it, there’s “significant support for English-only. Most of this is disguised or patent resentment toward immigrants, and it occurs both in areas with significant immigration (big cities, the Southwest, Florida) and those with few non-anglophones (Iowa, West Virginia).”

When a Spanish-version recording of the national anthem was released in 2005, Baron recalled, “there was much public opposition, and George W. Bush made a statement against it. At the time, there were four Spanish translations of the national anthem on the U.S. State Department Spanish-language website. They disappeared overnight.”

Geographer and evolutionary biologist Diamond clearly feels that a person’s worldview is expanded when she speaks more than a single language — but in his book he also says practical benefits flow from bilingualism. One example comes from a Canadian study of 400 people with a diagnosis of probable Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms were first experienced by bilingual people in the sample at an age 4 or 5 years older than by monolingual people. Significantly, given that education is usually associated with a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s symptoms, the bilingual patients in the study were less educated than their monolingual counterparts.

“Bilingual patients,” Diamond concludes, “suffer less cognitive impairment than do monolingual patients with the same degree of brain atrophy: bilingualism offers partial protection against the consequence of brain atrophy.” The reason? The brain of a bilingual person “is constantly having to decide” to speak, think, or comprehend sounds in one or the other language.

If speaking two languages gives the brain an extra work-out, what must be going on in the heads of the extreme multilinguals who clustered around that campfire with Diamond in New Guinea?



6 commenti

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