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Why bilingualism makes a difference

Wednesday 18 March, 7:30pm
H3 (Bld 11)

A special lecture by Professor Claudia Maria Riehl (University of Cologne, Germany), sponsored by The Language and Society Centre of the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University.

Professor Riehl visited the Language and Society Centre as a visiting scholar. Her research interests cover sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic aspects of multilingualism (including bilingual education), intercultural communication, minority and regional languages. She holds the position of a professor at the Department of German Language and Literature at the University of Cologne and is director of the Centre of Language Diversity and Multilingualism. Abstract

Listen to the lecture (MP3) (43.2MB)

View the lecture slides (ppt format)


Helen Marriott (
Melanie Burns (


Claudia Maria Riehl (University of Cologne, Germany):
Why bilingualism makes a difference

Many discussions are going on about the benefits of second language learning and of using more than one language on a regular basis. There is still a common opinion that learning languages early in life might confuse children or at least overtax them. Thanks to new technologies such as neuroimaging techniques we are now able to prove that bilinguals, especially bilingual children, do have neuronal and cognitive advantages over monolingual speakers.

This talk will provide an overview of what happens in the brain, when we communicate, and how our linguistic knowledge is organized. It will be demonstrated how different languages are represented and activated in the brain. Using neuroimages of brain activities in early bilinguals and late bilinguals it will be illustrated why people who have learned both languages early in life have an advantage over those who have learned one of their languages after puberty. Furthermore, experimental evidence will be provided to demonstrate cognitive advantages of bilinguals. The talk will conclude with a discussion of the impact that neurolinguistic and psycholinguistic findings might have on second language teaching and on language policy.