It’s almost official now: monolingual people are at a physical disadvantage and may develop health problems. Linguist Wendy Ayres-Bennett of Cambridge University calls it "a newly identified disease". Ayres-Bennett spoke at the recent Hay Festival in Wales on the latest outcomes of research done through the university’s Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies project. People who can only speak one language take longer to recover from strokes, get early-onset dementia before multilinguals develop it and generally find it harder to concentrate, she says. The ambitious project is aimed at combating the alarming drop in willingness in the UK to study other languages. The numbers are paradoxical: although more children indicate that they want to learn other languages at school, they lose interest at the end of their teenage years. From 2000 to 2015, the number of students taking courses in languages other than English dropped 57%. The project’s work is of great in...

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