Urdu-English divide: Five things to know if you are bilingual

Scientific research reveals knowing a second language improves academic performance, emotional intelligence

Batool Kazim December 03, 2016
Scientific research reveals knowing a second language improves academic performance, emotional intelligence. PHOTO: REUTERS

Once seen as a rich man’s privilege, knowledge of English language is now increasingly becoming the need of time to fall in sync with the trend of hyper globalisation. This does not mean it is not held in at least some degree of contempt. Sadly, we hail from a society where English is used as a judgment scale on both sides of the schism, with both speakers and non-speakers repeatedly exchanging salvos for either being grammar Nazis or lingual Neanderthals!

For those who believe learning English is a waste of student’s time and resource, results of a Swedish MRI study showed that learning a second language was related to promising brain growth. However, sheer ancestral loyalty to their mother tongues stops many parents from encouraging their children to learn English or any other language with much seriousness, dashing their dreams of raising smart children in this skirmish.

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Before you snub your child’s flare for excelling in a second language, consider these six aspects related to bilingualism, brain development and academic performance:

Better academic performance

Concrete data backs the notion that learning a second language has positive impact on performance in other subjects. For instance, six different studies conducted from 1977 to 1998 showed consistently that children who learned a foreign language outperformed their peers in core subject areas on standardised testing. These children performed significantly better in social sciences and math. A 1984 study by Savielle-Troike showed that students who excelled in the vocabulary of second language had equally sharp skills of comprehension, writing, and reading and performed well in mathematics. Two different studies touted that bilingual students boasted stronger memory and sharper listening skills in comparison to their monolingual peers.

Superior thinking skills

It has been seen that children who spend time learning a second language have overall better development of higher order thinking skills. Higher order thinking skills are accrued through learning that requires more cognition or using judgmental skills like critical thinking or problem solving as opposed to simple memorisation of facts and figures. Not only do these skills require perseverance to master, they are thought difficult to be conveyed to student through medium of instruction as students mature. Learning a second language has a collateral benefit in evolution of children's thinking process, imbibing them with such higher order thinking abilities as divergent thinking and figural creativity. Because there is at least some whisper in scientific world that bilingual people switch between different personas and thinking patterns as they switch language, it is easy to see that learning a second language allows children to draw creativity from more resources and strengthen their thinking skills in the process.

Easier to multitask

A repetitive argument against promoting second language usage is how English terminologies have slowly seeped into Urdu language, causing it to lose its singularity. However, it is actually indicative of smarter thinking because it is not just the fluency in second language which allows users to switch back and forth between the two systems of speech, writing, and reading, it's actually the brain's ability to multitask, to tap into different vocabulary resources to construct coherent sentences. Because of this practice, bilingual people have an innate knack for multitasking as they train their minds to focus on more than one task in any given span of time. This has been proved by results of a study where participants took on a driving simulator while being distracted by several different tasks on the side. Bilingual participants deftly managed these two different tasks while monolingual participants committed more mistakes and were not as adept at juggling the two.

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Enhanced emotional intelligence

Not only does learning a second language make you more perceptive and empathetic, it also paves the way for multicultural competence and nurtures acceptance of different racial and ethnic origins. Children who learn second languages grow up to be more tolerant and accepting of cultural differences and adjust better in multicultural societies. Learning a second language is an ideal tool for smothering xenophobia and racism from early ages in children because by the time children turn 10, they begin to clearly perceive different nations and groups as "others" which is crucial in shaping their future attitudes in face of cultural change and disparities.

Defense against mental illness

In the long run, learning a second language has been connected with improvement of memory because of sharper cognition and strengthening of neural pathways. Not only does this means that children are likely to remember names, lists, and numbers verbatim, they will also defend themselves against early onset of Alzheimer's and dementia as studies have consistently proven time and time again that despite confounding factors such as region, ethnicity, education level, gender, and physical health, the median age for manifestation of first signs of degenerative memory loss in bilingual patients was 75.5 years while it was 71.5 years in patients who spoke a single language.

Batool Kazim is a UK-based pharmacist.


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