Understanding the bilingual mind

Psychology Today magazine (yes I read it) has a great article on the bilingual brain and how we process language and information. The new issue, which should be hitting stands right now, interviews 4 bilingual brilliant minds (puros nerds), some of them mastering more than 2 languages. Pero les faltó el Spanglish speaker. (Que onda con el Spanglish representation pues!)

Heres an excerpt of the article. “A Sharper Mind, The Bilingual Advantage” on the cover. You can eventually find it in full at their website http://www.psychologytoday.com when they update for the month, or get the mag at your local newstand for $4.99. This is the issue cover:

Weird cover of Psychology Today, but the article "A Sharper Mind" is quite interesting.

Double Talk

By Carlin Flora

Psychology Today

September/October 2010 issue

Some are children of enterprising immigrants or embattled refugees. Others live along borders or are part of a minority that keeps its heritage while blending into the mainstream. Still others have spend years memorizing vocabulary lists and parsing sentences. All told, half of the world’s population conducts life in multiple languages.

Bilingualism doesn’t just apply to the small percentage of people who are perfectly fluent in two tongues. Bilinguals might speak beautifully in one language without being able to read or write it. And they may have acquired their second tongue as a child, a teen, or an adult.

People who are bilingual are often asked which language they think in, but when people are walking down the street, riding a bus, or jogging in the woods, their thoughts may not be in a particular language, points out Francois Grosjean, author of the research based Bilingual Life and Reality. “Thought can be visual-spatial and nonlinguistic. It is only when planning to speak that individual languages actually intervene,” Grosjean says.

While they do repress words in one tongue in order to speak another, bilinguals don’t completely lose access to the first. For example, bilingual subjects reading sentences with cognates- example would be “bleu” in French and “blue” in English- take less time to process them than other words, hinting at how they are always dipping into their total language knowledge. And they often intermingle their languages (Spanglish, Chinglish), not out of laziness or lack of ability, but in a natural quest for optimal self expression and understanding.**

(** Well if Psych Today says so, then it must be true! My mind is complex, not lazy y a veces le pono y le quito palabras to express myself better. But only in the spirit of peace, love and understanding.)

3 thoughts on “Understanding the bilingual mind

  1. A few thoughts:
    +I was always ashamed of speaking “Chinglish” because my vocabulary didn’t progress beyond age 12.
    +Earlier this summer, I asked my Dad to purchase children’s flashcards for me on his last trip to China so that I could practice vocabulary old skool style! Sadly, no one is really “teaching” the Cantonese dialect so the romanization on the flashcards is in Mandarin. (sigh) It’s a little confusing and one day I’ll explain to you how different the two dialects really are.
    +I have accepted that I may just be a functional illiterate. However(!), I do feel validated by the article above since “Bilinguals might speak beautifully in one language without being able to read or write it.”
    +Lastly, some food for thought from the NYT, “Does Your Language Shape How You Think?”

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