Various studies have explored the link between the ability to use more than one language and improved cognitive function and thinking. Now, for the first time, the research team appointed by the European Commission conducted an analysis of scientific literature, European and international, on this subject during the period of May 2008-June 2009 across all 27 EU Member States plus Norway and Turkey. The findings are described in the report "The Contribution of Multilingualism to Creativity" [PDF].
The inventory of research-based publications covered the following five hypotheses.
- There is a link between multilingualism and creativity
- Multilingualism broadens access to information
- Multilingualism offers alternative ways of organizing thought
- Multilingualism offers alternative ways of perceiving the surrounding world
- Learning a new language increases the potential for creative thought.
The Science Daily article "Brains Benefit from Multilingualism" quotes David Marsh, specialized planner at the Continuing Professional Development Centre of Jyväskylä University, who coordinated the international research team behind the study:
"The research report brings forth six main areas where multilingualism and hence the mastery of complex processes of thought seem to put people in advantage. These include learning in general, complex thinking and creativity, mental flexibility, interpersonal and communication skills, and even a possible delay in the onset of age-related mental diminishment later in life," Marsh relates.
One of the central cerebral areas highlighted in the research report is the one responsible for memory function. People rely especially on the short-term memory when thinking, learning and making decisions.
"It is obvious that enhanced memory can have a profound impact on cognitive function, says David Marsh. -- This may be one reason why the multilingual shows superior performance in handling complex and demanding problem-solving tasks when compared to monolinguals. They seem to be able to have an advantage in handling certain thinking processes," March continues.
It was assumed earlier that differences in the brain would only occur if a person is bi- or trilingual, that is with a very high command of different languages. The recently published research suggests, however, that changes in the brain's electrical activity may occur already in the beginnings of learning a new language.
Perhaps, it's time to add learning a new language to your 2010 resolutions. It seems that the benefits are there regardless of whether you learn to speak it proficiently.
Related post: "Learn a language in 2009 and improve your brain"