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Poster A66, Thursday, August 16, 10:15 am – 12:00 pm, Room 2000AB

The impact of successive bi-/multilingualism on the cognitive abilities of healthy older speakers: Evidence from Norwegian academics.

Valantis Fyndanis1, Sarah Cameron1, David Caplan2, Christina Davril3, Nina Hagen Kaldhol1, Monica Knoph1, Hanne Gram Simonsen1, Ane Theimann1, Charalambos Themistocleous4,5, Thomas Bak6;1University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway, 2Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA, 3University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany, 4Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, 5University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden, 6University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

While it is well established that healthy older speakers exhibit age-related cognitive decline, a growing body of research suggests that both simultaneous and successive bilingualism are associated with cognitive benefits, enhancing aspects of executive functioning in healthy older speakers and even delaying the onset of dementia. It has recently been argued (e.g., Bialystok et al., 2014) that a bilingualism-driven cognitive benefit is more likely to be detected in nonverbal cognitive tasks than in verbal tasks. Interestingly, a bilingual advantage has been found not only in people who speak two or more languages, but also in infants who are only exposed to two languages. This suggests that not only speaking, but also listening to two or more languages may confer a cognitive advantage. However, the bilingual advantage has been called in question because of potential confounding factors involved in several studies, such as immigration status, socioeconomic status, and educational level. Moreover, it has been suggested that bi-/multilingualism should be treated as a continuous and not as a categorical variable, as is usually the case. The goal of this study is to investigate whether different degrees of bilingualism in different modalities (speaking, writing, listening, reading) have a differential effect on the cognitive abilities of healthy older individuals who are of the same immigration status and of similar socioeconomic status and educational level. The study also explores if a bilingual advantage only emerges in nonverbal cognitive tasks. Eighty-three healthy older (aged 55-70) native speakers of Norwegian differing in the degree of bi-/multilingualism were tested with tasks tapping verbal and nonverbal inhibition and switching, as well as nonverbal fluid intelligence. The degree of bi-/multilingualism was determined by the amount of use of one or more languages other than Norwegian established through a comprehensive questionnaire. Separate scores were computed for speaking, writing, listening, and reading. All participants were university professors living and working in the metropolitan area of Oslo. All had learned their first foreign language after the age of 5, and none of them were immigrants. Correlation analyses were performed between the different measures of bi-/multilingualism and the cognitive effects computed for each task. Results show that the higher the degree of bi-/multilingualism in the reading modality, the more enhanced the nonverbal inhibition ability; and the higher the degree of bi-/multilingualism in the writing modality, the more enhanced the nonverbal shifting ability. The correlations are small but significant. The results are not confounded by nonverbal fluid intelligence. No effect of bi-/multilingualism on verbal cognitive tasks was found. Results are consistent with the literature arguing that successive bilingualism confers a cognitive advantage, which usually emerges in nonverbal tasks. Results suggest that not only speaking but also writing or reading two or more languages can confer a cognitive advantage. It appears that “modality of bi-/multilingualism” interacts with inhibition and shifting. References Bialystok, E., Poarch, G., Luo, L., & Craik, F. I. (2014). Effects of bilingualism and aging on executive function and working memory. Psychology and Aging, 29, 696–705.

Topic Area: Multilingualism

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