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Professor Ellen Bialystok's study cited in Psychology Today story on bilingualism and relationships

Professor Ellen Bialystok's study cited in Psychology Today story on bilingualism and relationships

New research shows that bilingual speakers have a distinct advantage over monolinguals, wrote Psychology Today July 6, in a story about couples therapy and the concept of mindful listening. The advantage goes deeper than being able to converse proficiently with people that speak that "other" language – although this is a huge advantage.

Research demonstrates that bilingual children develop greater mental flexibility, a finer grasp of abstract concepts and stronger working memory…. The bilingual person is primed, therefore, in a way that monolinguals are not, to seek out and, at times separate, the meaning that a person is trying to convey from the words they are using to do so; the message becomes an abstraction embedded within the words – their setting.

In a study headed up by Ellen Bialystok at York University [Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health] in Toronto, two groups of children – each group was comparable but differed in that one was composed exclusively of monolingual students and the other contained only bilingual students – were asked whether the sentence, "Do apples have noses?" was grammatically correct. The monolinguals were stumped. The bilinguals responded something like this, "The sentence is silly but grammatically correct." From this and other similar studies, Bialystok sums up the results of her overall findings this way: "Bilinguals we found manifested a cognitive system with the ability to attend to important information and ignore the less important."

Willingness to accept the possibility that what one hears is not always what the other means to say is an important step in the direction of creating and maintaining emotional safety in your relationship…. This is one definition of mindful listening.

Posted by Arielle Zomer, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.