Bilingualism transforms language, cognition, and the brain
Judith F. Kroll (The Pennsylvania State University)
There is a great deal of mythology about bilingualism. Some worry that children exposed to
more than one language early in life will become confused and fail to become a fluent speaker of
either language. Others think that language mixing produces disfluencies that indicate underlying
pathology. Current studies show that these beliefs are simply wrong. Using two languages
actively does indeed change each of a bilingual’s two languages but in ways that hold
consequences for the mind and the brain that are largely positive. The continual availability of
both languages requires the bilingual to become a mental juggler, learning to negotiate the
competition arising from the language not in use to selectively focus on the intended language.
Bilingualism may impose unique demands on cognition but the successful resolution of those
demands may translate into benefits for learning and memory more generally. Bilingualism
creates an openness to new language learning and sharpens the ability to resolve cognitive
conflict. These consequences are complex because the contexts in which multiple languages are
learned and used differ across groups of bilingual speakers. In this talk I focus on the way that
bilingualism transforms language use and, in doing so, changes the mind and the brain.