Bilingualism and Intelligence

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Bilingualism & Intelligence

Nowadays, bilingualism is prevalent in many parts of the world. It is a multi-faceted concept, shaped by factors such as migration, medium of instruction, interracial marriage, and politics, among others. From Southeast Asia to Africa to Latin America – people have been using more than one language in numerous situations, as well as for various purposes and functions. “It is very reasonable to guess that over half the world’s population is bilingual,” states Cindy Kandolf (1998) in her US-based website, the Bilingual Families Webpage.

In the same light, “intelligence” is also a much-talked about subject matter today. Parents put a premium on providing the best possible education for their children, so that they may grow up to their full potential. Some even go to great lengths to discover and cultivate their children’s “giftedness.” This phenomenon is not at all surprising, since the world is becoming more and more competitive, and quality education is often seen as the ticket to success.

Putting these two concepts together, one might wonder if -- and how -- bilingualism and intelligence relate with each other. Does being functional in more than one language affect intelligence positively or negatively? This question stirred my interest and led me to find out what different researchers, educators, and language experts had to say.

Some experts strongly uphold that bilingualism has a positive affect on intelligence. In an article for Europe’s Children Our Concern (ECOC) website, Dr. Ludo Beheydt, Professor of Dutch Linguistics at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium, recalls how early studies cautioned against teaching children a second language at an early age. It was thought that this would “hamper” their learning of the first language. He counters this misconception by presenting newer studies, which show otherwise: “The continual switching of languages is a powerful cognitive exercise. It can lead to greater...
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