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The second language is the hardest

Research from a University of Tokyo and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team has shown that multilinguals are faster and more effective at learning additional languages than bilinguals. 

The results, published in Scientific Reports, were gathered in tests where participants’ brain activity was monitored through MRI scans while they were introduced to Kazakh. All the participants were native speakers of Japanese and had English as their second language. The multilinguals also had either Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Russian or German as a third language and some spoke as many as five languages.

Proving the theory of cumulative enhancement, the multilinguals who had the most fluency in their second and third languages were quicker at determining answers to test questions, needed fewer learning sessions, and became more confident of their knowledge and ability faster than the bilinguals.

“This is a neuroscientific explanation of why learning another new language is easier than acquiring a second,” says professor Kuniyoshi L Sakai of the University of Tokyo who worked on the study. “Bilinguals only have two points of reference. Multilinguals can use their knowledge of three or more languages in their brains to learn another new one.”

It just goes to show that, sometimes, more is more.

Image courtesy of OSPAN ALI on Unsplash
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Liz Granirer
Liz Granirer
Liz has been a journalist for many years. She is currently editor of EL Gazette and has previously edited the magazines Young Performer, StepForward and Accounting Technician; been deputy editor on Right Start magazine; chief sub editor on Country Homes & Interiors; and sub editor on easyJet Traveller, Lonely Planet and Family Traveller magazines, along with a number of others.
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