Bilingual kidsI found an interesting article on reporting on research that says bilingual people can’t ‘turn off’ their second language when not using it.

Not being bilingual myself, I have always assumed there is some kind of switch in the brain when you choose to speak in a different language. This appears not to be the case:

According to a recent study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, it appears humans are not actually capable of “turning off” another language entirely. Psychologists Eva Van Assche, Wouter Duyck, Robert Hartsuiker and Kevin Diependaele from Ghent University found that knowledge of a second language actually has a continuous impact on native-language reading.

The article goes on to say:

According to the psychologists, it is the overlap of the two languages that speeds up the brain’s activation of cognates. So even though participants did not need to use their second language to read in their native-language, they still were unable to simply “turn it off.” It appears, then, that not only is a second language always active, it has a direct impact on reading another language–even when the reader is more proficient in one language than another.

I’d be interested to hear any anecdotes from bilinguals about their experience with this.