Дідик Олена Олександрівна

Харківський Національний Педагогічний Університет імені Г.С.Сковороди

Викладач кафедри Практики англійського усного та писемного мовлення

Україна, Харків


Лобзова Світлана Леонідівна

Харківський Національний Педагогічний Університет імені Г.С.Сковороди

Кандидат філологічних наук,

доцент кафедри Практики англійського усного та писемного мовлення

Україна, Харків


 Анотація: В статті розглянуто важливе питання щодо впливу білінгвізму, мультілінгвізму на розвиток функцій мозку . Нещодавні дослідження виявили цікаві факти, які потрібно брати до уваги не лише по відношенню до білінгвів, але й до вивчаючих іноземні мови також.

 Ключові слова: bilingualism , brain function, affects on cognitive abilities


 Nowadays most part of the world is multilingual or bilingual than monolingual; it has positive affects on cognitive abilities and facilitates cross-cultural communication. Bilingualism is a multi-dimensional human phenomenon. It may be assessed along a continuum of the level of skill development and the frequency of use of the language. Recent data by the European Commission [3] show that over half of Europeans can hold a conversation in at least one additional language, and approximately a quarter is able to speak at least two additional languages. Also, the age at which one learns a second language (age of acquisition) defines early and late bilinguals. Early bilinguals are those who acquire their second language sometime before the “critical” or “sensitive” period for language learning, typically defined as adolescence; late bilinguals are those who acquire their second language after adolescence. With the help of functional brain imaging, questions about the implications of age of acquisition, language proficiency, and cognitive processes can be addressed in terms of their neural substrates. 

 Languages surround us since the very first day of our lives. We use language to communicate our thoughts and feelings, to connect with others and identify with our culture, and to understand the world around us. And for many people, this rich linguistic environment involves not just one language but two or more. Scientists always showed great interest in bilingualism and language acquisition.

 Firstly, it may seem like a disadvantage that bilinguals have to be able to cope with two active languages. They can obstruct and interfere with each other’s processes in the brain. This notion is reasonable, as there is sizable evidence that both languages are active in the brain, even when only one is used. However, as the obstruction and interference constantly challenges the brain and thereby becomes a form of unintentional brain training. In addition to this, it is believed that the process of having to switch between different languages results in a generally heightened sense of perception. This is because, as Albert Costa of the University of Pompeu Fabra in Spain “it [bilingualism.] requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving. The bilingual experience appears to influence the brain from infancy to old age (and there is reason to believe that it may also apply to those who learn a second language later in life)”. [4, p.7]

 The evidence from a number of different studies suggests that bilingualism improves the brain’s executive functions — the brains “control center” that handles the processes that we use for planning, solving problems and critical thinking. These processes include staying focused by ignoring distractions, switching attention from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering which route to take when driving to a new destination. The benefits of bilingualism are not just useful in the early stages of life. Recent research by Dr. Tamar Gollan of the University of California suggests that elderly with a high proficiency in multiple languages were more resistant to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. [8]

 Languages obviously differentiate on basic vocabulary and often on aspects such as grammar, syntax, tone etc. More importantly to our case however, it was proven in recent research conducted between 2004 and 2011 that languages also differentiate neurologically in the sense that they activate and utilize the brain’s functions differently.

 Recent studies indicate that the age at which a new language is learned is of great importance for how the brain stores that language. If, for example, the brain learns English at an early age, then it will attempt to process all other languages in the same neurological manner, although this may not always be necessary or indeed optimal.

 Not only do languages activate different parts of the brain, they also trigger different memories. In a study from 2007, two researchers discovered that bilinguals answered questions differently depending on the language in which the question was asked. The study tested a group of English-Mandarin bilinguals who were asked a series of multivalent questions, i.e. questions with several possible answers. [4]

 The study found that when the participants were asked a specific question, such as “name a statue of someone standing with a raised arm while looking into the distance”, they were most likely to name the Statue of Liberty when asked in English and the Statue of Mao when asked in Mandarin. In the same manner, the participants were asked to “name four tourist attractions” and were more susceptible to name American tourist attractions such as the Grand Canyon, Lincoln Memorial etc. when asked in English. When asked in Mandarin, the participants were more likely to list Chinese tourist attractions, such as the Great Wall of China or the Terra-Cotta Army.[4]

 These findings indicate that knowledge is stored in the brain based partly on the language in which the knowledge was originally learned, and that the recall process tends to depend on language as well.

 Bilingualism’s effects also extend into the twilight years. In a recent study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals, scientists led by the neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego, found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism — measured through a comparative evaluation of proficiency in each language — were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.[5]

 To conclude, we may say that bilingualism positively affects the brain, prevents from different neurological diseases and affects on language learning system, however, one should take into account the age of second language acquisition.



1. Abutalebi, J., Annoni, J-M., Zimine, I., Pegna, A. J., Segheir, M. L., Lee-Jahnke, H., Lazeyras, F., Cappa, S. F., & Khateb, A. (2008). Language control and lexical competition in bilinguals: An event-related fMRI study. Cerebral Cortex, 18(7), 1496–1505.

2. Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., & Luk, G. (2012). Bilingualism: Consequences for mind and brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(4), 240–250

3. Green, D.W. (2003). Neural basis of lexicon and grammar in L2 acquisition: The convergence hypothesis. In R. van Hout, A. Hulk, F. Kuiken & R. Towell (eds.), The interface between syntax and the lexicon in second language acquisition (pp. 197–208). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

4. Gollan, T. H., Montoya, R. I., Fennema-Notestine, C., & Morris, S. K. (2005). Bilingualism affects picture naming but not picture classification. Memory and Cognition, 33(7), 1220–1234.

5. Grosjean, F., & Li, P. (2013). The Psycholinguistics of Bilingualism. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

6. Li, P., Legault, J., & Litcofsky, K.A. (2014). Neuroplasticity as a function of second language learning: Anatomical changes in the human brain. Cortex, 58, 301-324. DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2014.05.001

7. Li, P. (2015). Bilingualism as a dynamic process. In B. MacWhinney & W. O’Grady (eds.), Handbook of language emergence (pp. 511-536). Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

8. Marian, V., & Spivey, M. (2003). Bilingual and monolingual processing of competing lexical items. Applied Psycholinguistics, 24(2), 173–193. 

9. Tanenhaus, M. K., Magnuson, J. S., Dahan, D., & Chambers, C. (2000). Eye movements and lexical access in spoken-language comprehension: Evaluating a linking hypothesis between fixations and linguistic processing. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 29(6), 557–580.

10. Thierry, G., & Wu, Y. J. (2007). Brain potentials reveal unconscious translation during foreign-language comprehension. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(30), 12530–12535.