Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bilingualiism, continued

When I was young I aspired to learn foreign languages, and eventually I did acquire some. I still recommend this endeavor because it broadens mental horizons.

But the advantages of such learning must not be oversold. A piece in the Sunday NY Times says flatly: “Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter.” If this generalization were true, the ancient Greeks could never have founded our intellectual tradition, as they were, most of them, monolingual.

Here is a counter example. I have no desire to demean any ethnic group but still, if the generalization were valid, people growing up bilingual in Spanish Harlem and Brownsville, Texas, would rule.

Of course we all know brilliant people who are fluent in two or more languages. However, their status is probably the product of their general intelligence and educational background. In other words, they might be just as smart if they only knew one language.

Today, the teaching of languages is embattled in our universities. I wish that this wasn’t so. But making unlikely claims will not help to rectify the situation.



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