“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein
Language fuels our brains, frames our thoughts and makes complex communication possible. The words, expressions and quirks unique to our language largely define how we see and understand the world. If you’re monolingual, that world has clearer limits. But in an age of borderless communications and global travel, it seems almost archaic to be limited to one language only – even if you’re lucky enough to speak a global language like English or Spanish as your mother tongue.
But is being bilingual – speaking two languages – or even multilingual all it’s cut out to be? Does it really open up the world to us when Google Translate can do so in one easy click? Can it make economies more successful, help us earn higher salaries, maybe even lead to a happier, more connected life? And is it, as popular culture likes to claim, the secret to bringing up super smart children?
The brain is a remarkably malleable organ. From birth to old age, it develops, adapts, learns and re-learns, even after being injured. Language is an essential component of how the brain functions throughout life, but just like the brain itself, science still doesn’t have a full picture of how language works its magic on those neural pathways.