[ExI] Languages (Was: Gifted Children)

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sat Nov 24 09:24:34 UTC 2012

On 2012-11-23 20:10, John Grigg wrote:
> Being an American, I am floored by anyone who knows more than two
> languages.  What I find amazing, is that a child's brain does not get
> the various languages confused.  My mother once told me that a European
> of the educated classes will typically know 4-5 languages fluently, and
> then be able to "get by" in several more!

Bilingualism is pretty impressive. And it does seem to have some 
cognitive enhancing effects, even. When you learn extra languages after 
your brain's critical period they are not represented in the same way in 
the brain and you have more of a context switch when moving from one to 

Learning by immersion is apparently the best way to really learn a 
language. This is also likely why educated Europeans are so 
multilingual: they move around in environments where people actually 
speak several languages.

> Being a product of the public education system here in the U.S., I did
> not even start studying a foreign language till junior highschool.  Oh,
> well...

That is a bit late. English starts in first or second grade in Sweden, 
and by junior high-school there is another foreign language (typically 
German, French or Spanish). Of course, kids today are highly motivated 
to learn English anyway since most cool stuff is in English - and they 
are of course exposed to English on TV with substitles.

There is some research on cognition enhancers to help language learning, 
but most experiments have been pretty limited to short training sessions 
rather than actual languages. There is also some interesting research on 
re-opening critical periods of learning: maybe one day we can just dial 
up infant-level rapid language acquisition when we need it.

Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford University

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