For many people who only speak one language fluently, others who are bilingual, trilingual, or true polyglots hold a real fascination. Do they “think” differently? Do they mentally translate their second/third/fourth/nth language into their mother tongue? Do they ever struggle to find “les mots justes” just like the rest of us? Now, however, another question has been posed: do they have a different sense of time?
Recent research conducted by the Universities of Lancaster and Stockholm have shown that people who are bilingual actually process time differently, and that it depends on the language context when they are experiencing different events.
Swedish participants with a knowledge of Spanish were found to adjust their answers when asked to estimate time based upon the language in which the question was posed.
Professor Athansopoulos, one of the lead researchers, indicated that these findings were consistent with the belief that language may permeate our emotions and perceptions more than we realise, encompassing: basic senses, visual perception, emotions, and now sense of time. He also believes that polyglots are more flexible thinkers, and are better at learning and multi-tasking, and enjoy better long-term mental health benefits, when compared with their monolinguist counterparts.
Those considering applying for Modern Languages, Linguistics, and Psychology may be particularly interested to think about the acquisition of language, and how the brain subsequently processes this information.
For students who would be interested to read the abstract of their research paper, here is the link: http://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fxge0000314