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"Double Speak" -- The Discovery Files

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It is often claimed that bilinguals are better than monolinguals at learning languages. Now, the first study to examine bilingual and monolingual brains as they learn an additional language offers new evidence that supports this hypothesis.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Bilingual bonus

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Best way to improve overall ability to learn a new language? First learn a second language as a child. A study at Georgetown University Medical Center showed child bilinguals gain an advantage over us mere monolinguals that helps them learn additional languages later in life.

The study recruited college students -- some spoke only one language -- English. The rest spoke Mandarin and English, from an early age.

The team wanted to ensure against any previous exposure to the new language, so they turned to a well-studied artificial version of a romance language: Brocanto2. Over a week's time both the bilinguals and monolinguals would immerse themselves in learning the language. Yeah, I speak Brocanto, bro.

At various times, the students' brain-wave activity was monitored with an EEG as they listened to Brocanto2 sentences. By the end of the first day, the bilinguals exhibited a specific brain-wave pattern commonly found when speakers process their native language. Monolinguals didnít show this pattern 'til about the last day. The monolinguals showed an additional brain-wave pattern usually not found when hearing one's own native language.

The team says the findings suggest a distinct future language-learning benefit for those who grow up bilingual. Wonder if it counts if your second language is (Sound effect: Klingon voice) Klingon or Dothraki.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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