More than half of the world’s population – estimates range from 60 to 75 per cent – speak at least two languages. Many countries have several official languages. In India, the national government uses two languages in its official communications: Hindi and English. State administrations can also use their respective languages as well as Hindi and English. They may adopt one or more of the twenty-two languages listed in the Indian constitution’s eighth schedule – Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Multilingualism has several social, psychological, and lifestyle benefits.
Furthermore, experts are discovering many health benefits from learning multiple languages, including quicker stroke recovery and delayed dementia development. Some argue that because the human brain evolved to be bilingual, people who only speak one language cannot fully utilise their abilities. And, we are in a world where languages are disappearing at an alarming rate – at the current rate of one every two weeks, half of the world’s languages will be extinct by the end of the century.
Our ancestors may have spoken the first words 250,000 years ago, when they stood up on two legs and relieved the ribcage of weight-bearing chores, allowing fine nerve control of breathing and pitch to evolve. And once humans evolved one language, it was only a matter of time until they produced dozens of others. Language evolution is similar to biological evolution; however, unlike genetic change, which is influenced by environmental factors, languages change and develop due to social factors. Diverse groups of early humans would have produced different languages as time passed. Then, to connect with other groups – for trade and travel – some family members would have needed to learn various languages.
Improvements in Learning
Being multilingual can provide real-world benefits like improving cognitive and sensory processing, allowing a bilingual person to interpret information in the environment better and give a more precise signal for learning. This greater attention to detail could explain why bilingual people learn a third language more quickly than monolingual people who master a second. The capacity to focus on the new language while reducing interruption from the languages they already know may be at the foundation of the bilingual language-learning advantage. This capacity would make it easier for bilinguals to access newly learnt words, resulting in immense vocabulary growth than monolinguals who aren’t as effective at blocking competing information.
Mental Muscles of Bilinguals
According to Jubin Abutalebi, a cognitive neuropsychologist at the University of San Raffaele in Milan, bilingual people may be distinguished from monolinguals merely by looking at brain scans. “Bilingual people have considerably more grey matter in their anterior cingulate cortex than monolinguals, and this is because they use it so much more frequently,” he explains. He says that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is like a cognitive muscle: the more you use it, the bigger, stronger, and more flexible it becomes.
Bilinguals, it turns out, employ their executive control all the time since their two languages compete for attention most of the time. The ACC suppresses the temptation to use words and grammar from the other language while a bilingual person is speaking in one language, according to brain imaging research. Furthermore, their mind is constantly making decisions about when and how to employ the target language. For example, Bilinguals, rarely get mixed up between languages, but they may use the odd words or sentence from the other language if the person with whom they are conversing also speaks it.
Health Benefits of Bilingualism
In everyday life, the capacity to concentrate, solve issues, focus, and mental flexibility and multitasking skills are highly significant. But arguably, the most exciting effect of bilingualism is that it appears to protect against dementia as people age when executive function generally declines. Being bilingual cannot prevent dementia, but it does delay its effects. For example, if two people’s brains progressed simultaneously, the bilingual would exhibit signs five years later than the monolingual. This is because bilingualism strengthens the executive system and rewires the brain, increasing people’s ‘cognitive reserve’. Because bilinguals have more grey matter and alternate neural connections, they can compensate better as portions of the brain are damaged.
Bilingualism may potentially provide benefits following a brain injury. In a recent study of 600 stroke patients in India, researchers revealed that bilinguals were twice as likely to recover cognitively as monolinguals. As a result, bilingualism can be said to aid in mental fitness. It could even be an advantage that evolution has favourably selected for in our brains, as evidenced by our ability to acquire new languages and switch between them, as well as the widespread use of bilingualism throughout history. We should start doing more cognitive exercises to maintain our mental health, just as we should start doing more physical activities to maintain the health of bodies that developed for a physically active hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
According to current studies, bilingualism can keep our minds working longer and better as we age, which might have a significant impact on how we educate our young and treat the elderly. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to speak as many languages as possible.