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Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Bilingual


I'm not bilingual, but a recent piece in the Association for Psychological Science caught my attention.

In much of the world, speaking multiple languages is the norm. Virtually everyone in the Netherlands and Norway speaks passable English, and it’s possible to travel, or even get a doctorate, in many European countries without speaking the local language at all.

So even your doctoral thesis could be written in English where it isn't the local language. I find that remarkable somehow - makes me feel like a bit of a monoglot oik if I'm honest.

Despite widespread multilingualism, most research on the psychology of language has focused on monolingual English speakers. But in the last decade or so, psychological scientists have started studying people who speak multiple languages. This research has included how bilinguals’ brains manage multiple languages, how they feel emotional words in their different languages, and whether their behavior and personality change when they speak different languages.

“Until recently, bilinguals were considered to be rather odd,” says Judith Kroll, an APS Fellow at Pennsylvania State University.

Considered to be rather odd? Not by me - I've always tended to admire multilingual abilities. More like an odd choice of words by Ms Kroll if you ask me. However it's an article with a number of strands. This for example.

In a meta-analysis about to be published in theJournal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, she and Angela Nguyen collected studies on people who are ethnic minorities or immigrants and found that those who embrace both the ethnic and host cultures have better mental health and social adjustment than either people who stick to the minority culture or those who assimilate completely, leaving their first culture behind. This body of research confirms that “success as an immigrant or ethnic minority is not contingent on abandoning your culture and only learning the host culture,” she says. “People who have both are actually doing better, mentally.” 

So immigrants are better integrated if they integrate? 

Surprising how often this kind of research doesn't so much discover anything new, but changes the language of common knowledge, assimilating it into the culture of academic psychology, regurgitating it as specialist literature. A kind of academic cud for long-term chewing.

It certainly pays to speak academic.

5 comments:

Sam Vega said...

So immigrants are better integrated if they integrate?"

I thought it means something totally different, and a bit less obvious. That immigrants who don't completely socially integrate have better mental health than those who do (i.e. who "go native") and those who don't bother to socially integrate at all.

Roger said...

To Academe - to take something very simple and make it very hard.

Penn State must have money to burn.

A K Haart said...

Sam - yes, that's what I meant although with hindsight I didn't put it well at all. Too keen to juxtapose the words. Almost worth altering, but I'll leave it for now.

Years ago I knew someone who tried to leave his culture behind - to over integrate. Cut off his hair and got rid of the turban.

It didn't work out well for him. He was better off as he'd been originally with a foot in both cultures.

Roger - I'll remember that verb. A profitable activity too presumably, because as you suggest Penn State will need deep pockets when the lawsuits come rolling in.

James Higham said...

This research has included how bilinguals’ brains manage multiple languages, how they feel emotional words in their different languages, and whether their behavior and personality change when they speak different languages.

I can vouch for it. My Russian was always best when either angry or after vodka.

A K Haart said...

James - how about your English? Mine is best lubricated :