Is monolingualism making us ill?

 “There is nothing ‘natural’ about being monolingual” says neuroscientist Thomas Bak

In recent years, research has shown that bilingualism can delay the onset of dementia by 4 to 5 years – including a study with over 600 patients that Thomas Bak co-authored (Alladi et al, 2013).

As a multilinguist who has learned lots of languages as an adult, Thomas is passionate about language learning and the brain health benefits it can bring (Bak et al, 2014; Bak, 2016).

Our brains were originally designed to be multilingual, managing two or more languages easily. Thomas reckons that, like sedentary lifestyles and an unhealthy diet, the monolingualism that’s come with modern society makes our thinking skills decline faster as we age and can actually make us more vulnerable to dementia in later life.

He will present his case against monolingualism at the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas on Wednesday 23 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017.

Read more about Thomas’ Fringe debate in his guest blog on the University of Edinburgh’s Festivals website:
Guest blog with Thomas Bak – Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas

About Thomas Bak

Thomas Bak is a reader in Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. He works with the language learning centre Bilingualism Matters and is a member of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing & Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE) and the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences (CCBS).


Alladi, S. et al. (2013). Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status. Neurology, 81, pp 1938-1944 DOI: 10.1212/01.wnl.0000436620.33155.a4

Bak, T. H. et al. (2014). Does Bilingualism Influence Cognitive Aging? Annals of Neurology, 75(6), pp 959-963 DOI: 10.1002/ana.24158

Bak, T. H. (2016). The impact of bilingualism on cognitive aging and dementia: Finding a path through a forest of confounding variables. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 6(1-2) pp 205-226 DOI: 10.1075/lab.15002.bak

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