Who Hijacked Our Country

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bad News for “English Only” Fanatics: You're Going SENILE

OK, that’s an exaggeration. But this report indicates that multilingual people have reduced and delayed the mental effects of aging. (If the first link doesn’t work, try this one.)

So, along with wolfing down zillions of cherries, berries and fish oil capsules and doing lots of crossword puzzles — start learning and speaking other languages. And quit blubbering about English being the official language.

On the average, people who regularly speak two or more languages start to lose their cognitive abilities about four years later than those who only use one language. Bilingual people in their 70s have scored much higher than their monolingual counterparts in tests for various cognitive skills.

The main researcher, Ellen Bialystok, thinks the increased cognitive ability comes from constantly having to decide which language to use and which language to suppress. She says “every time you want to speak one language, the other language is activated in the brain as well. That means you need a mechanism so that you're only drawing from the right pool of words. It’s going to be a mechanism that works extremely fast…while you're producing sentences. It’s way below your radar for detecting what's happening.”

As a result, bilingual people are more highly skilled in tuning out distractions so they can focus and concentrate; and they're better equipped for rapid decision-making and multi-tasking.

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Blogger ParisL0ve2 said...

These English-only people are a riot!! I mean seriously, do we have nothing better to do in this country than to dictate what language people can speak?

It's pretty hypocritical of English-only supporters when they can't even speak "Anglish" correctly. Instead of demanding English and only English, they should stop butchering it!!

You better beware!! Pretty soon they'll be declaring that if you don't speak only English, you're supporting the enemy!!

They better lock me up and throw away the key because I speak Russian. I'm teaching myself Italian, French, and Spanish right now. And I'd like to learn Chinese, German, and Arabic among other languages in the future.

February 8, 2007 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Paris10ve2: Yeah, those English-only people sure get worked up over a minor piddling detail. They need to get lives.

That's a lot of languages you're speaking and learning. If that study is correct, you should retain all your mental faculties well into your old age. When you're a hundred and ten you'll still be as sharp as a tack.

February 8, 2007 at 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shoot English is such a difficult Language I am still learning it at 50. I always wanted to learn a 2nd language and it has always been on my list of things to do.

When it comes to any kind of Multi language our country leads in resistance a leading criticism from the rest of the world.

You forgot exercise Tom, I do work out every day and that is supposed to also keep the mind sharp!

BTW your wife speaks fluent German does that mean she will still be sharp while you are a senile old fool? LOL


February 8, 2007 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

I want to get some materials and teach myself Croatian. I don't know why, but I have a fascination with Croatia and I would love to travel there. If I do make it there someday, I don't want to be like typical American tourists who feel like they don't need to learn the language of the country they are visiting, and that all the native people with whom they interact should speak English. That is just plain arrogant. I think that people from other countries will have more respect for American tourists if the tourists at least TRY to speak the language.

Or, I could brush up on my high school German from over 30 years ago, or learn Spanish.

That's what the "English-only" Americans need to do... they need to shut up and learn Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, whatever.

I tend to believe that most Mexicans would like to learn English in order to get along more effectively in the US. I tend to believe most Mexicans who come to America legally or illegally come here to work, to make money to help their relatives in Mexico. This is the case with the Mexican people I know in my area, anyway.

The "English-only" crowd seems to me to view non-English speakers as a class of lesser people. They aren't interested in getting along better with them... when a great key to understanding can happen through shared language experiences. I am much more in favor of making America a multi-lingual nation and dealing with that as a reality of life on earth, than making it into some kind of exclusive club for people who think they have been chosen by God or whatever. Why shouldn't school systems in California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico teach bilingually from preschool on up? Some angry conservative types might complain, but hey... I think the kids would all be much better equipped for getting along with each other down the road.

February 8, 2007 at 5:59 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Erik: English is pretty much my only language too. With all the traveling I've done, I never learned more than a few basic phrases of the local language. My bad.

But I do work out every day, religiously, so hopefully that'll keep me from...from...uhh...where was I...

Snave: I think that's true, that there's a racial element here. Obviously not everyone in the English-only crowd is racist, but I think a lot of English and Germans (and their American descendants) think of themselves as pure and lilywhite, and language figures in there as well as race. Just guessing.

Croatian sounds difficult; I think most of those Slavic languages are a bitch to learn. I was in Yugoslavia very briefly a long time ago (when that country existed). I don't know if I was in Croatia or not; I think just Serbia. Friendly people, in that gruff-but-nice way that Eastern Europeans are famous for.

I took French in high school and Spanish in college, but somehow I haven't retained any of it.

February 8, 2007 at 6:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know I read this one as well, and was thinking the whole time...damn, damn, damn my, "Mein Deutsch ist sehr rusty"!

How about computer languages? Java, C, Pascal, Lisp, Prolog, Ada...anybody, anybody, Bueller?

February 9, 2007 at 12:07 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Kvatch: That would be nice if computer languages would help. That still wouldn't do me much good; I doubt if the tiny bit of HTML I know, or the macros I used to write on WordPerfect, would count.

February 9, 2007 at 3:27 PM  
Blogger Mile High Pixie said...

This is great news, Tom. I'm already conversational in French, which I realize makes me a freedom hater and a cheeze-eating surrender-monkey sympathizer, I'm sure. I also recently told a friend that I wanted to learn Spanish for real, and he acted startled. I learned enough Latin American Spanish a few years ago to get around the Mexican countryside, but I'd like to learn it in earnest, just so I *can* talk to people here out West. My friend started up with, "You shouldn't have to learn another language just to function in your own country," so I had to explain to him that I just *want* to learn Spanish. It makes it that much easier to eavesdrop on the bus. :-)

I think it's not just racism but also classism that makes our fellow Americans look down on those who don't speak English very well in the US. These people often claim they'd learn the native language of wherever they were moving before they moved there, but that's a rather middle-class perspective, at the least. We're assuming that people who move in a short amount of time to the US and pick strawberries or bus tables at a restaurant are doing so with a fair amount of capital and a decent educational system in place. The problem with poverty is not a lack of money, it's moreso a lack of options. Mexico's poor don't have the cash to buy the CDs or tapes to learn English, nor is it taught in the poor rural schools, I'd bet. So, they come here to make a better life for themselves, whether legally or illegally. And as a matter of course, they have to learn English on the fly.

A foreign-born actor once said, "Don't make fun of someone who speaks English with an accent. Remember, he speaks one more language than you do."

February 10, 2007 at 12:30 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Mile High Pixie: French??? (Just kidding.) I loved Paris when I was there on a short vacation in '92. I tried to make the best use of my high school French, but it was hard to remember. I also don't remember much of the Spanish I took in college, but that would be worth re-learning too. When I lived in California, I could have had a field day eavesdropping on the bus, in stores, etc.

It takes courage and gumption for foreigners to come here and try to make a better life. Whatever anyone thinks of illegal immigrants, it's not easy to leave behind the life you know and go to a new country where most people will hate you as soon as they look at you. If we tried to learn their language, we could eavesdrop on their conversations AND postpone senility :)

February 10, 2007 at 1:06 PM  

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