A recent interview published in the New York Times on the 40 year research career of an international expert on the effects of bilingualism has been welcomed by Gaelscoil an Chaistil.
In the interview, the distinguished international researcher, Professor Ellen Bialystok, underlined once again some of the important advantages of being bilingual.
“As we did our research, you could see there was a big difference in the way monolingual (children with only one language) and bilingual children processed language.
“We found that if you gave 5- and 6-year-olds language problems to solve, monolingual and bilingual children knew, pretty much, the same amount of language. But on one question, there was a difference. We asked all the children if a certain illogical sentence was grammatically correct: “Apples grow on noses.” The monolingual (single language children) couldn’t answer. They’d say, “That’s silly” and they’d stall. But the bilingual children would say, in their own words, “It’s silly, but it’s grammatically correct.” “The bilinguals, we found, manifested a cognitive system with the ability to attend to important information and ignore the less important.”
When asked how does this work?, the professor explained “There’s a system in your brain called the executive control system. It’s a general manager. Its job is to keep you focused on what is relevant, while ignoring distractions. It’s what makes it possible for you to hold two different things in your mind at one time and switch between them. If you have two languages and you use them regularly, the way the brain’s networks work is that each time you speak, both languages pop up and the executive control system has to sort through everything and attend to what’s relevant in the moment. Therefore the bilinguals use that system more, and it’s that regular use that makes that system more efficient.”
Professor Bialystok also pointed out that the way bilingual and monolingual brains work is very different. “Advanced neuroimaging techniques were used to see what parts of the brain lit up when our subjects performed different tasks. Now, with these new technologies, we can see how all the brain structures work in accord with each other. In terms of monolinguals and bilinguals, the big thing that we have found is that the connections are different. So we have monolinguals solving a problem, and they use X systems, but when bilinguals solve the same problem, they use others. One of the things we’ve seen is that on certain kinds of even nonverbal tests, bilingual people are faster. Why? Well, when we look in their brains through neuroimaging, it appears like they’re using a different kind of a network that might include language centers to solve a completely nonverbal problem. Their whole brain appears to rewire because of bilingualism.”
Brídín Ní Dhonnghaile, Principal of Gaelscoil an Chaistil, welcomed this latest news saying. “We are very excited by this recent news. As the only school in the area that is focused on achieving bilingualism, we fully understand the many benefits it brings, both academically and socially. Professor Bialystok is an researcher of world renown and this recent interview which is backed by hard science adds once again to the body of national and international knowledge on the educational advantages of bilingualism. Indeed the Education Training Inspectorate (ETI), writing in the Government review of Irish-medium Education wrote on the benefits of bilingualism said, “ETI noted that bilingualism can be a sought after commodity, with cognitive benefits in:
i. language acquisition;
ii. cognitive and academic development;
iii. the self-confidence and self-esteem of the children; and
iv. problem-solving abilities, with children who are less afraid to get
Language is the key intellectual tool and one that underpins our ability to
be effective as individuals and members of society.”
Specifically on Professor Bialystok’s research the ETI concluded “Professor Bialystok has demonstrated that bilingual people are better at multi-tasking because they constantly exercise the part of the brain known as the pre-frontal cortex. This reinforces attentional processes. She also established that being bilingual exercises the brain and dramatically lessens age-related mental decline. Pre-school children who are bilingual are quicker to understand the symbolic function of letters and score twice as high as monolingual children in recognition tests of written characters. Bilingual children who have been exposed to literacy and stories in both languages are advantaged in learning to read.”
Principal Ní Dhonnghaile finished saying. “It is an exciting time to be involved in Gaelic-medium Education, with 40,000 children in our sector throughout Ireland. When we include Gaelic medium in Scotland and Welsh medium in Wales we are well over 140,000. Our sector is thriving and growing and that happens because what we do benefits children and the broader society. The great thing is you don’t have to take my word for it as the international research and the Educational Training Inspectorate also endorse that view.
Gaelscoil an Chaistil are currently enrolling children in both nursery school and primary school and can be contacted on 02820768883