Cover Image: The Power of Language

The Power of Language

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Member Reviews

At the pediatrician’s clinic, a nurse told Viorica Marian, who is a native speaker of Romanian, to use only English with her American-born daughter. Speaking another language would “confuse” the child and hurt her long-term, the woman had said. This was a good decade ago. Even today, it is common advice for immigrants in the United States – it is also completely wrong.
In her new book, The Power of Language, Marian, a Moldavian American linguist, draws deep on research, some of it her own, to explain how language operates in our minds, and how we can harness the limitless power of languages to enrich our lives, as individuals and societies. She makes the convincing case that being bilingual, or better still, multilingual, can work wonders for the brain.
When bilingual persons use one language, she explains, the other language is active in their brains at the same time. As a result, the executive control system, whose job it is to keep us focused on what’s relevant, gets honed constantly. Just as exercise can change our bodies, this mental activity rewires the bilingual brain.
A buff executive control system gives bilinguals certain cognitive and social advantages even at a young age– they are good at multitasking, for instance. Later, they are able stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia, by an average of five years compared to their monolingual peers with the same level of anatomical decay.
“If the brain is an engine, bilingualism may help to improve its mileage, allowing it to go farther on the same amount of fuel,” the author writes. The attention and aging benefits aren’t exclusive to people who were raised bilingual – they are also seen in people who learn a second language later in life. It is never too early or too late to start learning another language, the author emphasizes.
Because language and culture are intertwined, bilinguals may have different mindsets for each language. “Just as H2O can be a solid, a liquid, or a gas depending on temperature, a person can be a different version of themselves depending on which language they are using,” she writes.
If the idea that various versions of the self can coexist in a speaker of many languages, seems too romantic, consider plainer ramifications of bilingualism. When Mandarin–English bilinguals were asked to name a woman who succeeded despite physical handicaps, they were more likely to say Helen Keller when speaking English and Zhang Haidi when speaking Mandarin. They knew both answers, but what came to mind varied depending on the language spoken at any given time.
It is not just hard facts – even the recall of personal memories can vary depending upon the language. In a linguistically diverse nation like the U.S., the finding has implications for interviewing bilingual witnesses in legal cases.
Similarly, when providing psychotherapy to bilingual clients, therapists need to be aware that, in some instances, crucial early memories may be encoded in a client’s native languages and can only be retrieved in that language.
The majority of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual. People who speak a language that is considered low-­prestige are well aware of the benefits of learning another language, ideally a dominant language that gives them access to the power dynamic of a globalized world and economy, Marian writes.
This book comes packed with interesting insights about the power of language even though it is written in the language of research papers. The codes we use to think, speak, and live, make for an endlessly fascinating topic. Chances are, you will download a language learning app, or make plans to sign up for an in-person language class once you’ve read this book.

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This book is a treasure for language enthusiasts, offering deep insights from experiments and real stories that emphasize the importance of language in our lives. It provided a fascinating exploration into languages! I've been advocating for a change in how the U.S. teaches languages, suggesting an earlier start than middle or high school. After reading this book, my belief in this idea has only strengthened. The revelation that learning multiple languages can enhance creativity in various areas is genuinely exciting.

The primary focus is on mastering multiple languages, with additional chapters delving into other intriguing language topics. The author skillfully blends scientific knowledge with captivating stories, making the reading experience both informative and entertaining.

Embark on a journey into the captivating world of language exploration with this well-balanced and truly compelling book! You won't be disappointed!

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This is the best book on the cognitive benefits and inherent power of teaching children and young adults to be bilingual that I have ever read.

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The Power of Language makes the case for learning more than one language and the impact it can have one's brain health, observational skills, and ability to map out connections. This relatively short book covers a vast amount of information, broken broadly into two parts: Self and Society. Self addresses how acquiring multiple languages can create mental maps and associations and also how switching from one language to another can influence one's outlook, creativity, emotions, and perception. Society takes a look at how languages affect one's interactions with other speakers and how languages can express cultural norms or political agendas and, at times, determine whether one has positive or negative feelings towards a concept. While readers with a background in linguistics or language learning will likely get more out of this book, it is still accessible to anyone interesting in learning more about languages since the author provides many examples and diagrams to demonstrate her concepts. Overall, a fascinating overview of the importance of language and the benefits of multilingualism.

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As someone who loves learning about the history of languages and is trying to learn more languages to speak, this book sounded perfect for me. I was not disappointed with my time with it! In this book, the author discusses the benefits of learning multiple languages at any age. The research mentioned in the book helps supports the authors claims on these benefits with easy to understand statistics and graphics. There's even a chart of the estimated time that it takes English-language speaking people to learn a variety of languages along with tips on mastering a language. Anyone looking to learn more about the power of languages or looking for motivation to learn a new language could benefit from reading this book. I found it to be both informative and inspiring! I'm now convinced that everyone should try to learn at least 2 different languages throughout their life! It's a pretty quick read too, which is always a plus to me.

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tl;dr Probably now one of my most favorite books ever??? xD Please check it out, linguist or not. Multilingual or not. I promise you you will learn something and be amazed!

Not tl;dr:

"Language is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal for processing and organizing the information from the world around us. Our perception of reality is filtered through our linguistic systems, and learning another language makes it possible to perceive the environment around us without the constraints imposed by a single language. Multilinguals are able to perceive more of the universe around them because they are able to transcend the scalar gradients imposed by a single language. Who needs mind-altering drugs when we have language(s)?"

I was barely through reading the introduction when I already found myself wanting to recommend this book to everyone I knew x'D Really fantastically done from start to finish. The author not only gives a great introduction to the topic, but throughout the book, takes deeper dives into the effects of languages on the mind, body, and so much more.

Going into this book, I knew that learning languages had a positive impact on brain health (and social aspects too, like biases, bigotry, empathy, etc). But I definitely underestimated just how impactful it is. The author goes into such minute detail into a multitude of areas in which knowing multiple languages has a profound impact. From memory, decision-making, observational skills, to things like theory of mind, metacognition, disease, and so much more. From children to adults, it seems learning a second language (at minimum) can be significantly life-changing.

The first third of the book focuses more so on the internal impacts of learning and knowing more than one language. (Like I described above.)

The next section of the book deals with external factors and social aspects of language as a whole. Politics, culture, relationships, power-dynamics, etc. Touching on topics like manipulation, cultural differences, dialects, racism, sexism and gendered languages (including non-binary discussion), and other biases, schooling, immigration/immigrants, as well as a host of other topics.

And the final section of the book covers artificial languages, mathematics, and programming, touching on those aspects of lingual "code", as well as the overlap and benefits we as a society have gained from them, and the potential we could grow from here.

The author really does cover as much ground as possible. I can't express enough how fascinated I was and how interesting she made everything out to be. As someone who is learning languages myself, I connected and resonated with so much of what she said. (And laughed at various references and examples of Japanese and Russian text, two languages that I have varying levels of familiarity with.)

The author being a woman was also so impactful for me. Her description of why English was the only language she could see herself writing in was something I could very much understand and relate to. Her lamenting over the lack of representation, and subsequently societal progress, of women in various scientific fields was so important to read.

A small nit-pick, though I'm sure no fault of the author, but it would've been neat to explore less popularly known languages. The author does touch on a few, which I LOVED, but it would've been super interesting to see more from specific smaller tribal languages, even more with Asian or African languages (there are so many!!). But she could easily save so much more for a sequel. (Which I would absolutely purchase!) So really, my nit-pick comes down to wishing there was more to read! Haha.

I will briefly point out, as another reviewer did, that the language is a little more advanced than the average reader, I'd wager. But please don't let that stop you from giving this book a chance. Even for the parts you may not fully grasp, the bulk of the book is eloquently explained in a way that most readers should have no issue with.

The author ends the book with advice and words of encouragement to the reader. In embracing their native language(s), and not shying away from introducing their children to their culture. And also to monolinguals, who may feel inspired but uncertain where to start. As well as advice on how to teach your children multiple languages. Worthwhile additions, and perfect for an epilogue.

"If symbolic systems are codes for our minds, and our minds are windows into the universe, then languages hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of the universe."

This was a wonderful and beautiful book. Even if you aren't fluent or studying other languages, I'd still absolutely recommend this book. (Honestly, most especially if you are a monolingual!) This author shares so much knowledge and wisdom, it really is a gem among gems. Super grateful I was able to get a copy of this, will definitely buy a physical copy when I get the chance!

And to any fellow language learners out there: 頑張ってね! Удачи! Good luck <3

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As an expat who has been an ESL teacher for 13 years in three different countries, I was quite excited to read this book. It is definitely a fascinating read, but it is not for the faint of heart. Most of the time, it felt more like a doctoral thesis than a book for the common reader. Many times when I was reading, once I understood the concept presented in a specific chapter, I would skim the remainder of the chapter and eventually skip to the next one, because I didn't need to read all of the evidence presented to fully engage with the subject matter.

If the reader is one who loves reading, engaging, and connecting with data on a given subject, this is a fantastic book for them. There were so many times when I would put the book down after finishing a chapter, and then think about what I had just read for days. It is engaging and challenging, and all those who work in language education should that the time necessary to read and digest it.

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This book is powerful and eloquent argument in favor of being multilingual and a great advocacy for studying languages. The author explains how knowing several languages can improve person's creativity, executive function, cognitive abilities, and even help delay onset of dementia. She demonstrates how the labels and codes we use for words in different languages change our perception of the object the words describe. And perception changes our attitudes towards the objects, and more importantly, towards other people. She shows how discounting the power of words and misunderstanding of the meaning another person applies to a word can lead to wars and other disasters. That’s just one of the examples of importance and application of multilingualism. In her explanations, Victoria Marian relies on vast body of research and her delivery is quite entertaining. It is a fascinating and convincing read.

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If you were looking for a book to make you want to go out and learn three languages or for something to make you feel smug about already knowing three languages, this is it. The author goes into detail about how being able to speak multiple languages directly impacts the brain and long term neuro flexibility. An interesting read for the layman who is curious about the ways our minds handle and process language. Written to be both technically robust and approachable, a fine line to walk.

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As a language educator, I was very excited to read this book, particularly the parts about multiple language development in children. This book is probably best for someone who has a background in language and language research; some parts of it were very academic. I appreciated the author's discussion of animal and computer language as well as human language.

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