Watch: Belgian academic explains why bilingual Welsh speakers are more creative
A Belgian professor has explained why bilingual Welsh speakers tend to be more creative than those who only speak one language.
Catherine Bouko, a lecturer in multilingual communication at the University of Ghent, was asked by France 24 what were the main advantages of being bilingual.
She said that the expanded vocabulary that comes with bilingualism allows for “more creative semantic combinations” and used the Welsh language to illustrate her point.
“One of the main advantages of being bilingual is that we have found that bilingual people have a more creative mind,” she said. “More flexible, more open-minded.
“So to measure that, we ask questions to bilingual and non-bilingual people like ‘what can you do with a brick?’
“Bilingual people will give obvious answers like build a wall or build a barbeque but they will also give more eclectic answers like filling a mouse hole. So we have witnessed that bilingual people are more creative.
“It can also be explained by the fact that they have two words for one concept. So for example in Welsh, school is said ‘ysgol’. But ysgol also means ‘a ladder’.
“So, one word describes two different realities. School and ladder. That allows for more creative semantic combinations to be made.”
Julie Sieger, the France 24 Health Editor explained: “So so more vocabulary you have the more broad your thoughts will be and the more imaginative you’ll be.”
“Studies do agree that bilingual children are better at staying focussed on one goal while remaining flexible about how to achieve that goal,” she said. “That’s huge because it’s probably one of the main keys to success in life.”
She added that in Alzheimer’s patients the symptoms appeared in bilingual people five years later than in monolingual people.
In September researchers at Bangor University revealed that bilingual children have more efficient thinking skills compared to children who only use one language.
By introducing a radical new method, researchers were able to measure children’s thinking skills more accurately and comprehensively than ever before, the study published in Behavior Research Methods shows.
The findings show that bilingual children are on average 6.5% more efficient in their thinking skills than monolingual children.
Athanasia Papastergiou, Lecturer in the Linguistics department of Bangor University and lead author on the publication, said it was “very exciting” to develop this new approach to the study of bilingual children.
“I hope that these positive results will help to allay any possible fears about bringing up children bilingually and highlight the benefits of doing so,” she said.
The research team, in collaboration with Dr Vasileios Pappas from the Kent Business School, University of Kent, achieved its breakthrough by adapting methodology from the field of economics to the study of bilingualism.
The project analysed data from children educated through the medium of both Greek and English in UK schools, in comparison with monolingual children.
Eirini Sanoudaki, Senior Lecturer in Linguistics and senior academic in the project, said: “There is an obvious advantage in being able to communicate in more than one language. Our findings show that learning two languages can have even more benefits for children’s development.
“We asked children, for example, to remember and repeat as many numbers as they can, to ignore irrelevant information, and to shift quickly between different tasks: bilingual children were better overall than monolingual children.
“These results are important for us here in Wales and indeed for bilingual communities across the world.”
The team will now expand its research to other languages, with a new project examining language and thinking skills in English-speaking children attending Welsh-medium education.
The study was co-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council Wales Doctoral Training Partnership and the Department of Linguistics in the School of Arts, Culture and Language at Bangor University.
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