Multilingualism at Sheffield 2019: Why our brains crave languages

By November 5, 2019 No Comments

Dr Thomas H Bak, University of Edinburgh

Monday 2nd December 2019, 2 – 4pm DB13 Bartolome House, University of Sheffield

Language learning has been traditionally approached from the perspective of applied linguistics or pedagogy. However, recent studies suggesting that knowledge and regular use of more than one language could slow down cognitive ageing, delay the onset of dementia and improve the cognitive outcome after stroke, open an entirely new perspective, linking multilingualism and language learning to evolutionary psychology, cognitive neuroscience, public health and wellbeing.

Why should language learning have a positive effect on mind and brain? In my talk I argue that multilingualism is the natural state of human mind and brain and that learning and speaking different language is one of the most effective ways of cognitive training. I will argue against the idea of a strict “critical period” and in favour of the concept of a “healthy linguistic diet”, a lifetime exposure and use of different languages with different levels of proficiency. The seminar is followed by a discussion led by Dr Ozge Ozturk, School of Human Communication Sciences, Health Sciences School, University of Sheffield and Dr Juliette Taylor-Batty, Leeds Trinity University.

Born and raised in Cracow, Poland, Dr Thomas H Bak studied medicine in Germany and Switzerland, obtaining his doctorate with a thesis on acute aphasias (language disorders caused by brain diseases) in Freiburg, Germany. He worked clinically in psychiatry, neurology and neurosurgery in Bern, Berlin, Cambridge and Edinburgh, with an interest in the relationship between language, cognitive and motor functions. 2010-2018 he was president of the World Federation of Neurology Research Group on Aphasia, Dementia and Cognitive Disorders (WFN RG ADCD). In recent years, Dr Bak’s work focused on the impact of language learning and multilingualism on cognitive functions across the lifespan and in brain diseases such as dementia and stroke. Not surprisingly, in his free time, Dr Bak enjoys travelling and learning languages.

This seminar is part of a series of events on interdisciplinary perspectives on multilingualism, organised by the Division of Human Communication Sciences, Health Sciences School, the Literacies Research Cluster in the School of Education, the School of Languages & Cultures, the Centre for Luxembourg Studies and supported by iHuman. All events are free to attend and open to all.

For further details contact Dr Jessica Bradley, School of Education: Register via Eventbrite.


Event Series co-organised by
Literacies Research Cluster, School of Education
Division of Human Communication Sciences, Health Sciences School
School of Languages and Cultures
Centre for Luxembourg Studies
Supported by iHuman