Healthy linguistic diet: the value of linguistic diversity and language learning across the lifespan
- There is a widespread and often implicit tendency to consider monolingualism as the default state of individuals and societies. Multilingualism is considered in this context as a burden, posing challenges particularly to the education system.
- In contrast, research evidence shows that multilingualism is common globally and on the increase in the UK. It is associated with better cognitive performance and higher academic achievement in children and with slower cognitive ageing, delayed onset of dementia and better recovery from stroke in later life.
- These benefits can already be observed during language learning, long before learners become proficient, and have been reported in language learners off all ages.
- We propose a positive re-evaluation of multilingualism illustrated by the notion of a ‘healthy linguistic diet’, based on the idea that exposure to different languages, learnt to different levels of proficiency, can have positive effects across the whole lifespan, benefiting individuals and societies.
- We outline some practical implications of this concept, such as the inclusion of a healthy linguistic diet in the Healthy Schools Initiative and promotion of language learning and multilingual language use as a beneficial mental activity in healthy ageing.