Bilingual advantages in middle-aged and elderly populations

Houtzager, N., 2015, [Groningen]: University of Groningen. 258 p.

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This dissertation reports on a research project into differences between monolingual Germans and bilingual speakers of Frisian, Dutch and German, regarding general cognitive functioning and lexical production. Our focus was on middle-aged and elderly adults. Cognitive functioning was measured in a taskswitching test and lexical production in a verbal fluency test.
In the task switching test bilinguals showed greater mental flexibility than monolingual participants. This bilingual advantage was caused by the performance of the elderly. The age at which people became bilingual, the number of years they had been speaking two languages and the proficiency level in their second language did not play a role in this effect. In the verbal fluency test the Frisian, early bilinguals performed equally well as the monolinguals, perhaps because Dutch and Frisian have many words in common. On letter fluency Frisian elderly participants even outperformed their monolinguals counterparts, which may point at better search strategies.
However, because of contradicting evidence from earlier studies, we cannot generalize these results to other types of bilinguals. Moreover, other factors such as immigration status can confound the results of group studies. We therefore emphasize the relevance of the correlation that we found between the degree of language balance and mental flexibility within our group of early bilingual Frisians. Accordingly, in the future studies into the effects of language-related variables within a homogeneous population seem best suited to provide insight into the issue of the potential advantages that bilingualism may bring.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
Award date12-Nov-2015
Place of Publication[Groningen]
Print ISBNs978-90-367-8361-3
Electronic ISBNs978-90-367-8360-6
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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