Are Bilinguals Actually Smarter?

by Ademi Yestayeva

These two are for my previous topic but I might use them too. 

Week 2:

1. Genesee, F., & Lindholm-Leary, K. (2007). Dual language education in Canada and the United States. In J. Cummins & N. Hornberger (Eds), Encyclopedia of Language and Education (2nd Edit.). New York: Springer, pp, 253-266.

“Dual language education in Canada and the United States” is a peer-reviewed scholarly primary source that provides substantial information and extensive research on the history and the essence of the phenomenon of bilingualism (English and French in Canada, and English and Spanish in United States) and the beginning of language immersion in North America in 1960s. 

The text examines the socio-economic and cultural reasons behind the necessity of bilingualism (English and French) in Canada, and the importance of a respectful relationship between English Canadians and French Canadians for a prospering and functioning society. It explores the development of bilingualism from an early stage, when French had an inferior status and was often prohibited to use. It explains the “Quiet Revolution” that occurred in Quebec in 1960s, when dominantly English-speaking people started to realise that French was becoming more important as a language of communication. This is a crucial moment for understanding the reason behind and the further development of the bilingual culture in Canada, which is the topic of my episode. It also explains the immersion program models that were first introduced back then, and the many benefits that kind of learning environment had on the students, which should encourage monolingual Canadians to express more interest in learning French and helping Canada maintain the bilingual culture that is crucial to its essence. 

2. Lepage, Jean-François and Jean-Pierre Corbeil. 2013. “The evolution of English–French bilingualism in Canada from 1961 to 2011.” Insights on Canadian Society, May, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 75-006-X.

The source is a statistical indicator of the evolution of the phenomenon of bilingualism of the official languages in Canada over the past 6 decades. It makes an interesting point of calling the colloquial usage of English and French together the 'official bilingualism' in the context of Canada's culture and society. It also shows the trends in the increase and decrease of the bilingual population, with special emphasis on the contribution of Quebec to the overall number of bilingual people in Canada. 

It demonstrates that despite the growth in population, the bilingual part of it has been fluctuating, without Quebec taken into account, where the process has always been steady. The statistics also provide interesting information on the ‘bilingual belt’, an area of Canada where the vast majority of the bilingual population is concentrated. It includes the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick. 

There are two reasons for the the fact that the rate of bilingualism (of official languages) in Canada has dropped: English-speaking students outside of Quebec are less exposed and less interested in learning French, and there are a lot of bilingual immigrants coming into the country, but they don’t speak either of the official languages, or at least one of them to the point where they could add to the ‘official bilingual’ population of Canada. This is an interesting perspective that I could consider in my episode.

Week 3:

3. Jones, Tobias. “The Joys and Benefits of Bilingualism | Tobias Jones.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 20 Jan. 2018,

The opinion piece was one of my two choices on my current topic of bilingualism and its benefits. For now I am sticking with the first opinion piece, and using this one as a popular source for the overall discussion in my future episode.

It's a great article by a father of bilingual children, posted in The Guardian, a renowned British newspaper, and it begins with his own experience of bilingualism, living in Italy as a native English speaker. It also includes substantial information on the topic in terms of extensive scientific research, social context, stats on bilingual people in a couple of cities and countries, a discussion on what bilingualism essentially is, and important data that proves the prejudice of bilingualism jeopardising children's intellectual skills wrong. 

What especially stood out to me in the article was the fact that the school that topped the Sunday Times school league consists of 96% students who speak English as a second language, which proved the claim that maintaining a "home language" is beneficial for learning the "community language", contrary to the earlier social views that I'll be mentioning. Another notable research proving the prejudice wrong comes from University of Toronto, where it was discovered that students who were fluent in their native language showed "CALP" (cognitive academic language proficiency) in a secondary language sooner than those without a strong native language background. The conclusion that can be drawn is that it is far more beneficial for children of immigrants to be exposed to a rich and eloquent native language at home, rather than a basic conversational English, because then they would be able to transfer their understanding of language to a different one and learn it efficiently.

It is also mentioned that speaking different languages allows people to have a broader perspective of the World, and a chance to understand different people better - to put themselves in other's shoes, basically. I couldn't agree more with this, and I will probably mention this somewhere in my episode. 

4. Grenier, Éric. “Census Data Shows Canada Increasingly Bilingual, Linguistically Diverse.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 11 Aug. 2017,

This popular source was published in the "Politics" section of CBCnews. I figured I could "translate" the bilingual discussion into the Canadian context. The article investigates the rates and trends in the bilingual population of Canada, including non-official languages, based on the information provided by Statistics Canada. 

The article states that despite the fact that the number of people who speak a language other than English or French at home has increased significantly in the past decade, no single language among those is spoken by more than 2% of the population, which means that French, reported to be the mother tongue of 21.3% of people, isn't going to be outnumbered any soon. Another interesting fact is that 69.9% of Canadians with a non-official mother tongue speak English or French regularly at home, which demonstrates a successful integration. The fact that the number of people speaking English at home has increased by 0.7% between 2011 and 2016, and the fact that the number of Canadian bilinguals is currently at 18%, the highest level on record, shows the trend of increasing of the bilingual community of Canada. I will try to integrate this interesting data in my episode. 

Week 4:

Pitch Transcript: 

Link to opinion piece:

The opinion piece with a bold title “Why Bilinguals Are Smarter”, written by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, and posted in the New York Times originally on March 17, 2012, was recently resurfaced from the archives to remind people of the pleasantly surprising effect of bilingualism. Bhattacharjee explains that being able to converse in more than one language isn’t just convenient in our globalized World. Speaking two languages with an analogous frequency and fluency – that is, being bilingual – has a profound effect on your brain!

The popular opinion that existed in the 20th century was that one language was a hindrance for the other. It’s true that both language systems are active even when only one is being used, but au contraire - it’s a blessing in disguise, as Bhattacharjee puts it. The two languages competing for dominance provide the mental stimulation that forces the brain to resolve the inner conflict, leading to fundamental improvement of the cognitive functions, and even postpones the onset of dementia. In other words, the bilingual brain is kind of like the muscular guy at the gym doing push-ups with one hand and his friend sitting on his back.

All of this is great news for all the bilingual and multilingual folks out there, who comprise approximately half of the World’s population, including 47% of Toronto, as reported in 2006, and the numbers are increasing due to high rates of immigration.

Now, the benefits of bilingualism that Bhattacharjee mentions are phenomenal, but it’s only natural that every coin has two sides. Bilinguals aren’t two monolinguals in one person: they tend to have smaller vocabularies in both languages than a person fluent in just one. They experience tip-of-the-tongue moments, when you can’t remember the word that you wanted to use, twice as much as their monolinguals peers, which can be embarrassing. But most importantly, they might experience difficulties with social integration – simply put, racism and xenophobia, when migrating to a different country and learning its language or languages for work, studies and communication.

How did it come to this reality where speaking a bunch of languages is becoming more and more common, as compared to the 20th century, when maintaining more than one language was prohibited and discouraged in some places? And what is the real experience of bilinguals nowadays, whether they’ve been speaking two languages since infancy, or learned a second language in an older age? Do the advantages of bilingualism outweigh the different kinds of drawbacks, be they academic or social? Let’s find out!

5. Costa, Albert, and Núria Sebastián-Gallés. “How Does the Bilingual Experience Sculpt the Brain?” Nature Reviews Neuroscience, vol. 15, no. 5, 2014, pp. 336–345., doi:10.1038/nrn3709.

This peer-reviewed academic article, the authors of which are mentioned in my opinion piece, is the result of extensive research in the field of bilingualism. It investigates 3 big distinctive ares of bilingualism. The first one is focused on infants and the way they learn to distinguish two languages. Next is the effect that a second language has on the first language, referred to as the 'bilingual effect', in young adults who became bilingual at an older age, as well as the neural consequences of the effect on the first language processing. And the last and most important for my episode is the general effects of bilingualism on the cognitive functions of the brain outside of the language domain. The life-long effect on bilingualism was observed in infants, children, young adults and elderly, both those who have been bilingual since birth and an older age. 

There is a great amount of valuable information present in the article, but for now I am choosing to focus mostly on the parts that have been mentioned in the opinion piece that I've chosen, because I think they are the most general and important as the base for the potential audience. This includes the "bilingual effect" on the executive control system of the brain. The research in this are has only been conducted fairly recently, and it reveals that bilingualism alters the functional involvement of certain brain areas in performing various tasks. In non-linguistic tasks, bilinguals used larger portions of the left hemisphere of the brain (responsible for language control) than monolinguals. In conflict monitoring tasks they seemed to use fewer brain resources, showing less activity in anterior cingulate cortex (responsible for decision-making, emotion, impulse control). They also demonstrated a higher volume of grey matter in that area, which proves the effect of bilingualism on parts of the brain responsible for executive control processes. There is also information on the study that showed bilingual elderly people demonstrate the symptoms of disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia on average 4-5 later than monolingual elders. The article also acknowledges that none of the studies indicate that bilingual infants suffer more from being exposed to two languages, or that bilinguals are smarter than monolinguals. The authors express how important this topic is socially and that some myths need to be debunked.

6. TED-Ed. "The benefits of a bilingual brain - Mia Nacamulli." Youtube, 23 June 2015,

The TED-Ed video lesson is a popular source based on evident academic research. "The benefits of a bilingual brain" is very similar to the opinion piece that I have chosen in terms of explaining what bilingualism essentially is and what kind of advantages it has. But it is also very different for a number of reasons: 1) it examines what language abilities are; 2) it introduces 3 types of bilingual people with an example of a family of immigrants (compound, coordinate, subordinate); 3) it mentions the functions of the brain hemispheres, explaining how language affects them, and it introduces the critical period hypothesis (linked to an idea of ideal time for learning language, along with the research based on emotional/logical approach to learning a language). It also gives a background story to the previously universal notion of bilingualism, which is something I intend to do as well. But most importantly, it acknowledges that bilingualism does not necessarily make people smarter, although it does make their brains healthier and more actively engaged, which is different from the overall idea of the opinion piece that I've chosen, because it gives off the impression that bilinguals are some kind of superhumans. The TED-Ed lesson also encourages people to learn a second language, which is also something I plan on doing. 

Week 5:

7. Bongaerts, T; Planken, B.; Schills, E. (1995). "Can late learners attain a native accent in a foreign language? A test of the Critical Period Hypothesis." The Age Factor in Second Language Acquisition: a Critical Look at the Critical Period Hypothesis, by D. M. Singleton and Z. K. Lengyel, Multilingual Matters, 1995, pp.30-50. 

The paper is a conference proceedings from the conference on the age factor in second language acquisition that took place in Seattle in 1992. As the title suggests, it makes an attempt at testing the critical period hypothesis. The hypothesis revolves around the idea that there is a certain period of time in which learning a second language is relatively easy, but after that period of time it become increasingly harder. The hypothesis arose from the idea that children are a lot faster at learning a second language than adults. According to it, the age of 12 years old is a neurologically based period, the onset of puberty, after which becoming fluent in a second language at the same level as native-speakers is impossible. It allegedly has to do with the fact that after the age of 12 years old the cerebral plasticity is lost, and so learning a language has to happen through conscious efforts and it becomes much harder to overcome a foreign accent. 

A different perspective emerged from that one that suggested that there are a few critical periods in language learning rather that one, and the ability to master a native accent is lost first around the beginning of puberty. Pronunciation is emphasised because it is the only aspect of language that has a neuromuscular basis. The study carried out by the authors came to a surprising conclusion when they saw that native speakers of English failed to recognise all of the native speakers of Group 1, giving the group an average score of 3.94, while misjudging the people from Group 2, who learned English as a second language, to be native English speakers with an average score of 4.31. The conclusion that can be made is that although there are significant advantages to an early start, intensive training in phonetics and pronunciation can help achieve a native-like accent even for late-starters. I am thinking of interviewing ESL students in order to find out how relevant this hypothesis is to their experience, or the experience of their friends. 

8. Vihman, Marilyn May. “A Developmental Perspective on Code-Switching Conversations between a Pair of Bilingual Siblings.” TESOL Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 2, 1985, pp. 371–373. JSTOR, JSTOR,

This short academic peer-reviewed paper examines my personal favourite aspect of bilingualism - code-switching - in the context of an Estonian-English household, specifically the interaction between two equally high-proficient bilingual siblings V and R.

The paper is the result of the fact that there is not much research on bilingual children engaged in natural verbal communication with their family. It explains their language background, tendencies and speech patterns, usage of English and Estonian. It also provides data on their typical usage of code-switching. After having been monitored and irregularly recorded for 4 years, the researchers came to a conclusion that the reason they siblings code-switched was never because of avoidance of grammatically complex structures or something like that, it was a natural occurrence that suggested that the siblings identify equally as speakers of their native Estonian and English, spoken in the community around them, which is the core principle of understanding why bilinguals code-switch and that it occurs naturally. 

Week 6:

9. Diller, Karl C. “‘Compound’ and ‘Coordinate’ Bilingualism: A Conceptual Artifact.” WORD, vol. 26, no. 2, 1970, pp. 254–261., doi:10.1080/00437956.1970.11435596.

The TED-Ed video, cited as number 5 on this bibliography, has mentioned the notions of compound and coordinate bilinguals. This academic peer-reviewed article does so, too, but offers an interesting perspective suggested by the title; the notions of compound and coordinate bilinguals are made up by humans, and rather do not actually exist in the sense that they were thought to be by many. These two terms were originally proposed to distinguish and classify the different kinds of bilinguals, but the system has many flaws, as Diller points out. He argues that these terms are: a) loosely defined, therefore not accurate; b) not proved by experimental evidence; c) contradict each other. 

Essentially compound bilinguals experience the world with a single set of concepts and simultaneously learn two languages in the process, while coordinate bilinguals tend to learn their languages in different settings and with two sets of concepts. The problem of the loose definition can be seen in the way many linguists disagree with each other in different cases. For example, one linguist might argue that a person learning a second language outside of home after the age of 10 years is always a coordinate bilingual, but in the case of a man who was raised by a Swedish-speaking mother and a Finnish-speaking father, which resulted in his equal proficiency, another linguist believes the man to be a "true" bilingual, and that "true" bilinguals are coordinate. That same linguist may even argue that compound bilinguals aren't bilinguals at all. 

However, Diller does not completely disregard the idea that there are different types of bilinguals. He suggests that "experiental context" means more than the manner in which the language was learned. Research shows that people with similar linguistic histories respond in one way, while others with different histories respond in another. The question that arises is whether these terms are useful? The way I see it, every person experiences life differently, and our vocabularies should differ correspondingly. I think this article is a great example of the idea that every bilingual person is different, based on their linguistic history, ethnic background, number of languages spoken, etc, and generalising such a diverse group of people is not a very good idea. This supports the conclusion that I am coming to in the process of research, that bilingualism is a very personal experience and can not be universally defined. 

10. Cheatham, Gregory A., and Yeonsun Ellie Ro. “Young English Learners' Interlanguage as a Context for Language and Early Literacy Development.” YC Young Children, vol. 65, no. 4, 2010, pp. 18–23. JSTOR, JSTOR,

As the title suggests, this short academic article provides brief and concise information on the process of early literacy development in young English learners.  Written by two professors from the field of early education, it explains how children go through the transitory process of second language acquisition, and suggest ways in which educators and families could cooperate to help children. 

It explains the three concepts that are important to second language acquisition: the stages of second language development, language attrition/language loss, and code-switching. It profoundly explains interlanguage - the transitory grammar that children develop when they're exposed to two languages. The learn by observing those language and developing ideas about how they work. Because this process takes time, some educators and even parents may think that the child is suffering speech delays or other language-related problems. In fact, they should be more patient and supportive, and cooperate in a way that would help children fully embrace their bilingual identity. I want to talk about how this is important for immigrants and ethnic minority children, and that successful second language acquisition could either build a bride to their bilingual identity, or confuse children and make them feel like they don't belong.