THE BLOG

Bilingualism Is the Norm - And Now Being a Good Lover Is Too

18/05/2015 11:50 BST | Updated 14/05/2016 10:59 BST

An article came out recently in Elite Daily making the eye-catching claim that bilingual people are not only smarter and more creative than monolinguals, but also 'better lovers'.http://elitedaily.com/life/culture/bilingual-people-smart-creative-lovers/1012727/

The idea, based on some genuine evidence gathered by Psychology Professor Susan Ervin-Tripp, is that language allows us to be more understanding not only of others, but also of ourselves - and consequently to have better relationships or, as Chris Riotta puts it so alluringly, be better lovers.

What fantastic news for bilinguals. We already knew that bilingualism was good for the brain. A 2012 article in the New Scientist told us that 'speaking more than one language improves cognitive function across the board, from planning and working memory to concentration and multitasking' and that, 'most significantly, being bilingual can sharpen the ageing mind.'http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21428634.000-oh-to-be-bilingual-in-the-anglosphere.html#.VVShw_lVhBc But now we know that it's also good for the soul!

It didn't fail to catch on. In fact, it has become something of a social media phenomenon, with almost 2 million likes on Facebook and 359,000 shares in less than a month.

I was one of those sharers. In turn, my shared post received several 'likes' and comments. Unsurprisingly, the focus of the comments was on the latter part of the claim. And even less surprisingly, every single person who responded to my post is at least bilingual.

Take from that what you will. I guess it mainly proves that it appeals to us bi- and trilinguals to think of ourselves as better lovers. You might also think that, having studied Languages at university and being a Spanish lecturer, I have more bilingual friends than most. But you would be wrong.

In the UK and Ireland, there is a wide misconception that bilingualism is rare, if not exceptional, and that it's the territory of the 'happy few' who have unusually good linguistic skills. This is perhaps because there are relatively few bilinguals in this country (approximately one third), giving us the lowest rates of bilingualism in the EU according to a 2005 surveyhttp://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_243_en.pdf. But in fact almost anyone, given the right conditions, education and upbringing, is capable of becoming bilingual.

In fact, as professor in psycholinguistics François Grosjean points out, it has been estimated that over 50% of the world's population is bilingual.http://www.francoisgrosjean.ch/myths_en.html This is due in many cases to contact with other linguistic groups within a country, but it is also explained by other widespread phenomena like immigration and intermarriage. As Chomsky observes in The Architecture of Language (2000), 'even in the United States, the idea that people speak one language is certainly not true ... everyone grows up in a multilingual environment'. Indeed, Grosjean estimates that the US is home to approximately 50 million bilinguals today, which accounts for about a fifth of the population. This is as a result of its large immigrant communities not only from Mexico (the largest immigrant group, for many geographic, economic, and political reasons) but also from Central and South America, Asia and elsewhere.

So I would say that Riotta's article attracted a large amount of attention not only because he brought the hot topic of relationships and romance into the less media-friendly (but nonetheless extremely important) topic of language-acquisition, but also because - very simply - there are a lot of bilinguals out there. And following on from Riotta's logic, a lot of good lovers.