Study shows bilingual students have better attention – USA

This is really interesting the research shows that again being bilingual is of great value.  Instinctively I know this but it is great to see that there are people out there researching it to give us the evidence base. This should help pupils all over the world as education establishments realise it is unfair to almost block out the pupils first langauge but instead embrace it, celebrate it and use it as the cornerstone for integrating into their establishment and for teaching the pupil their preffered establishments language.

It reminds me of when I moved from Wales to England and taught in London where there was a predominantly Greek Cypriot Community both at school and in the surrounding area and being really surprised when the then HeadTeacher stood in Assembly and said I have done  a survey and in this school we have 37 langauges but the schools langauge is English and I expect everyone to comply with this.  This was great for me as a new teacher because it made it easier for all, and she had the balance right becasue we also had a cultural day which was almost unheard of at the time run by the parents. The pupils were able to dress in their clothes, eat their food, and generally share their customs.  It was the first time I got to try and understand the Greek style of Meze eating -and I was an adult, but loved it.

This is the article that dug out that lovely memory.

Speaking two languages fluently helps improve attention, according to new Northwestern research findings.
The research, which was published April 30 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, studied 25 monolingual and 23 bilingual incoming high school freshmen.

Viorica Marian, NU department chair of communication sciences and disorders and the study’s author, said researchers believe that in bilingual people’s brains, both languages are constantly active.

When bilingual people speak or listen, they have to learn to subconsciously block out the other language processing center. In everyday life, this translates to better attention.

Researchers first measured the subjects’ proficiency to confirm their language fluency. All monolinguals spoke only English and all bilinguals spoke only English and Spanish.

Researchers connected the subjects’ brains to electrodes that measured the sound waves generated in the brain stem, a part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord. Subjects listened to a simple sound, the syllable “Da” repeated several times. For this part, both groups’ brain waves looked similar, Marian said.
However, when researchers added background noise in addition to the sounds, they found that bilinguals were better able to block out the extra noise.

“When a background noise was incorporated, like in a noisy restaurant, bilinguals showed an advantage over monolinguals, suggesting that bilingualism helps individuals process sounds better,” Marian said.

Marian said that recently, other researchers have shown similar effects in other sections of the brain, but she said the brain stem is different. Because it is a primitive structure in the brain, this research also indicates that these abilities may be one of the brain’s natural and basic functions.

In addition to the sound tests, researchers also gave participants cognitive tests of attention. Marian said the participants whose brains were the best at blocking excess noise also showed the best attention.

“So it seems to be this highly interrelated system,” Marian said. “The biological system influences function and the function influences the biology.”

She added that new research has shown that with each language someone learns, it becomes easier to learn a further language.

Marian, who grew up speaking Romanian and Russian and later learned English, said her future research will focus on people who have become bilingual later in life, such as during high school or college. She said she hopes that demographic changes in the United States will make bilingualism more common.