Language requirements may entail a purpose after all

By Kulsum Musani

The beauty of Benedictine University is the plethora of nationalities, races, religions and with all this, the multitude of languages. With students who are the sons/daughters of immigrants, international students, or students who have a passion for learning languages, one can’t deny the fact that bilingualism is a significant aspect on campus. I hear students talking in Arabic, Spanish, English, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Korean and other languages that I still have not been able to identify.

Bilingualism can even be detected by the way people act daily. Have you also noticed your friends listening to music, eating, writing an essay and chatting with a person at the same time? Chances are that this can also relate back to bilingualism. Another study done by Judith Kroll, a psychologist at Penn State University, has shown that speaking in more than one language increases mental stability and function. She also found that bilinguals outperformed monolinguals in multi-tasking and prioritizing information; they were able to better edit out irrelevant information and focus on the essential details.

Sure, speaking in another language does sound cool, but there is another hidden value of speaking more than one language- the improvement of cognitive skills. Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at New York University in Toronto, has stated that bilingualism boosts performance of the brain, specifically the executive control system. The brain gets stimulated when switching from one language to the other, building up mental reserve. Some of the most intelligent students that I have come across, some of them being my best friends, are those who can speak more than one language.

Bilingualism has also shown to have potential health benefits, such as delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Bialystok went further in her study by looking at 211 people with a chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease; 102 were bilingual, and 109 were monolingual. Her results showed that the bilingual patients were diagnosed with the disease 4.3 years later, and showed symptoms 5.1 years later compared to the monolingual patients.

These effects do not, however, only relate to people who grew up with a second language. Students who learn new languages later in life because of their passion, or students who learn new languages because of school requirements also experience these benefits. No matter how you acquire knowledge of a new language, the main thing is to keep practicing it. So the next time you go on vacation, try your newfound skill- speaking some Spanish on a trip to Mexico, Arabic in Saudi Arabia, or even some Swahili in Kenya, for example, can bolster your mental capacity and capability!