Study a Second Language if You Need to Relearn the First

by Translation Guy on June 30, 2010

Speech researcher Swathi Kiran of Boston University works with bilingual stroke victims to help them relearn words lost to aphasia. As reported in Scientific American Mind, she found that these recovering patients improve faster if they start with the hardest stuff first.

“She has found that when pa­tients practice the language they speak less fluently, their vocabulary grows in both languages. But when the patients study words in the language they are more comfortable in, only that language improves.

“[She and her colleagues] found that training patients in their weaker language results in transference to the stronger language. Something about thinking in the weaker language automatically helps the stronger language, because they have to do some kind of translation to make sense.”

Researchers show pictures which patients then must name. They’ve found that naming pictures of “pumpkins” and “garlic” helps aphasia victims do better naming carrots and tomatoes.

So while monolinguals forge connections between related words, bilinguals recover similar words (meaning the same word in different languages) based on similar neural patterns.

It’s estimated that there are 45,000 new cases of bilingual aphasia in the US every year.  Recovery is affected by the number of languages spoken, the order in which they were learned, and how well and frequently each language was used before the stroke occurred. The type and severity of the aphasia, as well as the patient’s levels of education and literacy, also influence how well a bilingual aphasiac will do over the course of treatment.

Last year, Clair Penn and her team reported evidence that bilingual aphasiacs do recover more quickly and completely.

“Significant differences were found between the scores of the bilingual participants and those of the monolingual participants on measures of behavioural inhibition, working memory, planning and problem solving, and reconstitution. The bilingual participants’ scores were mostly within normal limits and suggested well-retained executive functions. Conversation analysis showed evidence of differential application of these executive functions to conversational management. Regardless of severity or type of aphasia, the bilingual participants showed evidence of good topic management, repair, and flexibility compared to the monolingual participants.”

So bilinguals have a linguistic leg-up when it comes to stroke recovery.



  1. Double Dutch says:

    We are hoping to move shortly to Toulouse and need to investigate the school situation for our 2 daughters. One is 10 and the other 13. We have heard that there is a bilingual school close to Toulouse -does anyone have any information regarding this and perhaps the International School there as well? ANY info on school (Bilingual, International, local etc)would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Aviran says:

    I’m bilingual (English and Spanish) fluently and I think I want to major in Psychology?
    But is that the best field for a bilingual person or not? Will the yearly income be better or the same as anyone else who isn’t bilingual.

  3. Susan says:

    Peal and Lambert (1962) concluded, after finding in their study that bilinguals were better academically at school compared to monolinguals, that bilinguals weren’t at a disadvantage in intelligence. And also wrote:

    “It is impossible to state from the present study whether the more intelligent child became bilingual or whether bilingualism aided his intellectual development.”

    Which one do you think it is? Is it the intelligence that aids in bilingualism? or Is it the bilingualism that aids in intelligence? Is there any reason to why you think it is that one?

  4. Georgette says:

    Hi Susan, this is most welcome opportunity to voice out some of the things you cover in the survey. I agree with Kathy that it would make it a lot more simpler if you turn the questionnaire into a shared form. However I was so eager to answer that I went ahead and worked the one you originally attached… and missed seeing the link you later created.=( Must say it looks and works much better that the former; but, since I had already blundered and taken up some time to do it, here it goes.

  5. If you could learn how to use Acrobat, you’d get a document that has spaces to type in. This was a bit miserable to fill out.
    Your questions are fairly vague; you’d do better to set up a study in surveymonkey, which collates your results for you and allows for comments by respondents.

    I am fluently bilingual (English/German); became trilingual in my early 30’s (Turkish). These languages hooked me into Bosnian, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Yiddish etc. You become linguistically enormously connected when you are multi-lingual.

  6. Suzy says:

    Personally, I believe being bilingual is useful, but sometimes I get confused with when I’m speaking Mandarin to one person and then I have to switch to Cantonese, switching back and forth so many times, makes me confused in what language I should be speaking. But most of the time it’s okay, because I don’t do the switching all time.

  7. Stay away from teaching and social work. Both require masters and the pay is nowhere near proportional to the work and education required. International relations, trade, state department work might be considerations. New lawyers are having trouble finding jobs this year and I assume it’s quite expensive to get the degree, but the potential returns should be better.

  8. dennerlymum says:

    This is only my personal opinion but it is based on experience. I would shy away from the Psychology major. Even though Psych is very interesting to study, it doesn’t offer much in the way of good paying careers once you get out of school. If I were bilingual in Spanish and English I would consider 3 fields.
    One is to become a high school Spanish teacher. There are numerous perks to this job. First, the starting salary is around 40k. You get 11 sick days per year. You work 7.5 hours a day. You get all the holidays off that the kids get off. You do work extra time at home, but if you love teaching it won’t feel like work. You get 2 months off in the Summer. Plus you get to teach! Great benefits too and your pay increases automatically.

    The 2nd field I would consider would be something international business related.

    The 3rd field would be in the area of interpreter or translator for big business. In an area where you get paid for your skill.

    The point is to be able to use your bilingual skill to earn decent money doing something you love. With a degree in psychology and being bi-lingual, yes you will be in demand but you’ll make only 12 to 15 bucks an hour in the social service field – if you’re lucky. You can survive on that pay but is that all you want to do is survive?

    Don’t sell your self short. I’d give my left arm to be bi-lingual. I regret not pursuing a 2nd language when I was younger. No matter what you major in college, you can take a couple of psych courses just to satisfy your interest. No need to MAJOR in psych.

  9. Ka Ora says:

    Its not that people lack advice, Of pretty much all the members I know here Myself and a couple of others that are in or nr Toulouse but all use the French Mainstream schools which personally I think is better.

    Children adapt quickly and IMHO local schools in France offer the best chances in the future for children here.

  10. I think Ka Ora is right. Unlike certain other forums, where there are plenty of people who are happy to express their opinions, whether based on fact or not, it appears to me that people on this forum only tend to reply if they have useful info.

    I live an hour from Toulouse and have no children, so can’t really be of much help. There is a mums and tots group on the outskirts of Toulouse and although your children are too old, the members on there site may be able to offer some advice

  11. Charlie says:

    A few stragglers, and before that!

  12. I don’t know if it’s just me or if perhaps everyone else encountering problems with your website. It appears as if some of the written text in your content are running off the screen. Can somebody else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This might be a problem with my web browser because I’ve had this happen before. Thank you

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