Thu, Dec 13, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Bilingualism beneficial for Taiwan

By Lee Po-Chih 李博志

National Development Council Minister Chen Mei-ling (陳美伶) on Nov. 7 announced that the government intends to improve Taiwan’s English-language capability to connect with the world. Taiwan will reach the goal of becoming a bilingual nation by 2030.

Bilingualism is defined as the ability to speak two languages. Bilingualism can also refer to the use of two languages in teaching, especially to foster learning in students trying to learn a new language.

The most spoken language in the world — going by total number of speakers, not just native speakers — is Mandarin. It is an official language in Taiwan, China and Singapore. It is estimated that the total number of speakers is 1.1 billion.

In terms of number of speakers, English is the second-most spoken language, with an estimated 983 million first and second-language users worldwide.

However, thanks to the historical dominance of the British Empire, and, more recently, the economic, cultural and military clout of the US, English is well-established as the world’s lingua franca.

English has become a world language that is spoken internationally and it is learned and spoken not only by a large number of speakers including native and second-language speakers, but also by its geographical distribution, as well as international organizations and in diplomatic relations.

In addition, the most influential scientific journals, including Nature and Science, are all published in English. The same is true in the areas of law, social science, engineering, literature, arts and sports. The leading journals in each field are all published in English.

The world’s influential newspapers and news magazines, such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Time, the Economist, Bloomberg Businesweek, Fortune and Forbes, are all put out daily or weekly in English. This provides enormous incentive for non-native speakers to learn English.

It is believed that bilingual and multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world’s population of 7.6 billion people. More than half of all Europeans claim to speak at least one other language.

Owing to the ease of access to information facilitated by the Internet, individuals’ exposure to multiple languages is becoming increasingly frequent.

In addition to the social and informative benefits of being bilingual, research has shown that it is a worthwhile investment of time due to advantages for mental health. Being bilingual could keep the human mind working longer and better into old age, which could have a massive impact on how children are educated and older people are treated.

Speaking two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world.

According to a report in the New York Times, being bilingual can have a profound effect on your brain, improve cognitive skills not related to language and even shield against dementia in old age. The bilingual experience appears to influence the brain from infancy to old age and there is reason to believe that it might also apply to those who learn a second language later in life.

A study of Spanish-English bilinguals led by Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego, found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism — measured by the assessment of the proficiency in each language — were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.

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