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401 Topics: Ask an American – Bilingual seniors; to keep in store versus to store up versus to reserve in store; which; think about versus think of

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast English Café number 401.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 401. I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Become a member of ESL Podcast. When you do, you can download the Learning Guide for this episode.

On this Café, we’re going to have another one of our Ask an American segments. This is where we listen to other native speakers speaking at a normal speed and we explain what they're saying. The topic of today's Café is, I think, an interesting one for everyone listening. It's about how being bilingual – speaking two languages – may help you cognitively, intellectually as you get older and I don't know about you, but I'm getting older every day. Every day I wake up and I'm older. I don't know what's happening. As always, we’ll answer some of your questions as well. Let's get started.

Our topic on this Café’s Ask an American segment is on the benefits of being bilingual, specifically, when you get older. We’re going to talk about bilinguals who are seniors. The word “senior” is used in general to mean someone who is older than the average person. Usually, we’re talking about people in their, maybe 60’s, 70’s, 80’s. Probably now, we would use this term more for people in their 70’s and 80’s as people live longer than they used to. We’re going to listen to a couple of quotes from a scientist by the name of Brian Gold. He's a neuroscientist. He studies the brain at the University Of Kentucky College Of Medicine. He is going to talk about a research study – a scientific study that he did – comparing the brains of older adults who were bilingual from childhood. That is, they had been brought up with two languages. They had grown up with two languages. He’s going to compare their brains to the brains of monolingual or those that only speak one language.

Dr. Gold found that those who are bilingual have certain cognitive or intellectual advantages over those who are monolingual. Why? Well, he talks about that in this first quote. Let's listen and then we'll go back and explain what he said.


“What is the functional basis of this advantage? Is it because they activate different parts of their brain that are typically used for doing cognitive control tasks? Or is it because they use their brain more efficiently?”

[end of recording]

Dr. Gold begins by saying, or asking the question really, “What is the functional basis of this advantage?” The “basis (basis) of something” is the foundation of something. It's the main reason for something, or the main cause of something. Gold is talking about the functional basis of something. A “function” (function) describes what something does or how it performs, how it performs in a certain way. Gold wants to answer the question about the functional basis of the advantage that bilingual seniors have over monolingual seniors. An “advantage” is something that you have that someone else does not. It's a positive thing. The opposite of an advantage would be a disadvantage. Here, we’re talking about the functional basis of the bilingual’s advantage. What I think Gold is talking about here is – what are the reasons, what are the causes in the way that the brain operates that allows them this advantage.

He is asking two questions here in order to answer the first question, or he's raising two issues in order to answer the first question. He says, “Is it” – that is, is this advantage – “because they” – bilingual seniors – “activate different parts of their brain that are typically used for doing cognitive control tasks?” Well, you can tell Dr. Gold has been at the university for a long time since he uses a lot of words that are very scientific and not easy to understand, even for native speakers, but let's try to translate what he says into English.

He's asking if there is this bilingual advantage because the bilinguals activate different parts of their brain. “To activate” usually means to turn something on, to make it work. For example, if you get a new credit card from the bank, or a debit card, you have to – at least in the United States – you have to call the bank to activate it, to say, “Yes, I received this card. I am the correct person that it was issued to and I want to use it now.” Activating parts of your brain would be using parts of your brain. The question is whether bilinguals use different parts of their brain that are typically used for doing cognitive control tasks. “Typically” here means usually. “Cognitive” refers to thinking, to intellect. “Control” is usually the ability to determine how something is going to work, or what is going to be done next. Just based on what he said, it sounds like he's asking about or referring to parts of the brain that are involved in making choices or in controlling certain aspects of our thinking.

He uses the word “tasks.” A “task” (task) is some action that we perform. One possible reason for this advantage then, one functional basis of this advantage, could be that bilinguals use parts of their brain that are also used for more general intellectual tasks and that, therefore, they, if you will, exercise them more. They use them more and so they work better. Another possibility is that the bilinguals are using their brains more efficiently.

Normally, “efficiency” relates to the ability to do something with the least amount of time and effort, to do something using the least amount of energy. It may also be, then, that bilingual seniors are using their brains in such a way that they can do things faster than monolinguals because of the way they've used their brain. Let's listen one more time on this question of the functional basis of the bilingual advantage.


“What is the functional basis of this advantage? Is it because they activate different parts of their brain that are typically used for doing cognitive control tasks? Or is it because they use their brain more efficiently?”

[end of recording]

Now we’re going to hear Gold answer that question by reporting on the results, or the findings as we would call them, of the study. Once again we’ll listen and then explain what he says.


“We found that seniors who are bilingual are able to activate their brain with a magnitude closer to young subjects. So they do not need to expend as much effort, and yet they still out-perform their monolingual peers, suggesting they use their brain more efficiently.”

[end of recording]

Gold begins by saying that “We found” – meaning we discovered, we determined – “that seniors who are bilingual are able to activate” – or use – “their brain with a magnitude closer to young subjects.” “Bilingual,” we've already mentioned, means more than one language. If someone speaks three languages, we would say they’re trilingual. If they speak four or more languages, we’ll usually use the term “polyglot” (polyglot). If they speak one language, they're called either monolingual or American – from the United States, that is. If you listen closely, you may also notice that Gold pronounces the word bilingual with almost an extra syllable at the end. He really emphasizes the letter “u” when he pronounces it. This is not the typical pronunciation of this word. I'm not sure why Gold pronounces it that way but he's the doctor.

He says that he and his colleagues found that bilinguals are able to activate their brain, to use their brain with a magnitude closer to young subjects. “Magnitude” (magnitude) usually refers to the size or importance of something. “To talk about order of magnitude” is to refer to what we call factors. For example, we could say that 200 is an order of magnitude greater than 20, and 2000 is two orders of magnitude greater than twenty. We don't know anything about the measurement Gold is referring to here. I'm guessing it has something to do with the scores on the tests that bilinguals and monolinguals took. What we do know is that the bilingual older subjects were much closer to young subjects than they were to their peers, or the people who were at the same age as they were but were monolingual.

So, what we have here are greater similarities between young subjects and older subjects who are bilingual. The word “subject” is just used in this case, to mean participants in the study. That's a word that we use often in publishing, in academic, scientific journal articles. When we talk about a formal scientific study, the people who are involved in the study are called “subjects.” Gold then answers the question about efficiency by saying that “Bilingual seniors do not need to expend as much effort.” “To expend” (expend) means to use. “Effort” would be something that might be a little difficult, or simply the energy that you would use in order to accomplish some task, some thing. What he's saying here is that the bilingual seniors don't have to use as much energy. They don't have to expend as much effort in using their brain as monolingual seniors do.

They're using less energy, and yet, they still outperform their monolingual peers. “Outperform” means they do better than, in this case, their monolingual peers. Your “peers” are those who are in the same age group as you are. “Peers” could also be referring to people who you have something in common with. It might be people you work with, for example. You might call them your peers. Your peers are at the same level as you are. Here, we’re talking about the age of the subjects and Gold is saying that the bilingual subjects did better than the monolingual subjects, suggesting they use their brain more efficiently. So, the reason is that they have some sort of increase in efficiency because they are bilingual. Let’s listen to Gold one more time.


“We found that seniors who are bilingual are able to activate their brain with a magnitude closer to young subjects. So they do not need to expend as much effort, and yet they still out-perform their monolingual peers, suggesting they use their brain more efficiently.”

[end of recording]

So now, you have a good reason to continue studying your English. The research that Gold reports on here is actually similar to other research about the advantages of being bilingual, especially as you get older. The question now is whether you have to be bilingual from the time that you are a child or can you also get these advantages by learning a language as an adult. We still don't have quite enough evidence to decide whether that's true or not. My guess is that it is.

Now let’s answer some of the questions that you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Ziya (Ziya) in Azerbaijan. Zia wants to know the use, or the correct use of the following three phrases: “keep in store,” “store up,” and “reserve in store.” Let’s start with “to keep in store.” “To keep in store” means to have a supply of something ready to use when you want to use it. It could be food that you keep in store for when, perhaps, you can't find the food you want at the grocery store. It could be any object that you keep somewhere so that it will be ready to use when you want to use it. “To reserve in store” means basically the same thing, to keep in store. Both “keep in store” and “reserve in store” are somewhat uncommon in conversational English. You'll see them more in writing than you will in daily conversation. “To store up” means to gather or collect something that you plan on using in the future. Often, it will be something that you think you will run out of or perhaps won't be able to get in the future. So, you could store up cans of, I don't know, tomato soup, because you think maybe there won't be any tomato soup next year or that you want to have enough tomato soup for everyone who's coming over to your house for dinner next week. You store them up. You collect them over time and keep them to use them in the future. Another way of saying “to store up,” is to “stock (stock) up.” I'm going to stock up on water and food supplies before the big storm in case there is an emergency and I need to have emergency supplies. I'm going to stock up. I'm going to store up these supplies. There is another expression “in store.” If you say you have something “in store” for you, for your friend, for whomever, you mean that you have something prepared for them. You are waiting for that person to receive whatever it is that you have prepared. “I have a great time in store for you tomorrow.” – I’ve planned a wonderful, fun day. That's just “in store” without any other verb in front of it such as “keep” or “reserve.”

Our next question comes from Keun Young (Keun Young) in South Korea. The question has to do with the word “which” (which) when used with other prepositions, such as “for which,” “on which,” “in which,” “of which” and my favorite “sandwich.” No, I'm just kidding. Sandwich is completely different.

This is a good question, but a difficult one to answer completely. Perhaps, the best way to figure out which preposition to use if you're not sure is to rearrange or rewrite your sentence so that you're not using which anymore. Often, you'll have to use a preposition connected with some verb that might be easier for you to remember. Here's an example, “This is the park to which I walk every day.” Now, why did I say “to”? Well, because if I rearrange the sentence I would say more simply, “I walk to this park every day.” This is the park “to which” I walk. Here’s another example. “That is the store in which they have the best prices.” Another way of saying that would be, “They have the best prices in that store.” Now, of course, you have to know what preposition to use in the rearranged sentence. You have to know “in” would be the correct proposition, otherwise it doesn't really help you to rearrange it if you don't know what the correct preposition is in a rearranged sentence. “They live on that street.” “That is the street on which they live.” There, I went the other direction. I started with the simpler sentence and then made it more complicated.

Now, in writing English, you will definitely come across these constructions of “to which,” “on which,” “at which” and so forth. However, in conversational English, they are not that common. It is much more common for people to use a simpler form and not use the word “which” at all. Instead of saying, “That is the park to which I walk every day,” Americans would probably say “That's the park I walk to everyday.” If you're a traditional grammar teacher you may not like that construction because the preposition comes at the end and there's nothing after it. However, this is really not a question of good grammar or bad grammar. It's a matter of usage – how people use things and this is completely acceptable in terms of English nowadays, both conversational and written. This whole idea of not having a preposition at the end of the sentence isn't something that's very well supported, historically or even logically. So, I don't think that's a rule you should worry about. I mean, I don't think that's a rule about which you should worry.

Vander (Vander) from Brazil has our final question today. Vander wants to know about some more prepositions actually – the difference between “think about” and “think of.” “To think about something” means to have something in your mind, in your head. You are imagining it or you are somehow thinking about this topic. “To think of” is usually related to having an opinion. Some examples would make this clear. “What did you think of the movie?” That means: What is your opinion of the movie? Did you like it? Did you hate it? Should I go see it? and so forth. You're expressing an opinion.

“Think about,” however, is also used sometimes in asking someone for their opinion. What do you think about going to Chinatown to have lunch. What is your opinion of that? Is that something you want to do, or don't want to do? So, the line between “thinking of” and “thinking about” isn't very clear and you'll often hear people use one for the other. For example, if you go to a store and you buy what's called a “greeting card” – a little card made of paper that you give to someone who perhaps is sick in the hospital. You'll often see cards that say “thinking of you.” I'm thinking of you. That means I am concerned about you. You are in my thoughts. Really, it means I'm thinking about you. It's a way of expressing your concern for that person. There’s also the common expression “You think of everything,” or “He thinks of everything.” There, it means that you have anticipated all of the things that you possibly need for this situation. If you're going out for a walk, one of you may decide to bring an umbrella. You're going with your friend and your friend might say as it begins to rain and you take your umbrella out and use it, “Oh, you think of everything,” meaning you planned for this. You are intelligent enough to know that you should bring an umbrella. Of course, if you just look up in the sky and you can see the clouds, then you can determine whether you need an umbrella or not.

If you've been thinking about a question that you're not quite sure how to answer, a question about which you have been thinking, e-mail us. Our e-mail address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

functional – related to what something does or how it performs

* Architects can’t consider only the functional use of space. They also have to think about how a building or structure looks.

basis – the foundation or the main reason for something; the main cause of something

* What was the basis for their hiring decision?

advantage – a positive thing or a benefit; something that makes us think that something is good

* The main advantage of Kensuke’s proposal is that it has a much smaller budget.

to activate – to make something operational; to get something to start working

* If you buy the phone today, we can activate it right away and transfer all your contacts from the old phone.

cognitive control – something that the brain must do in order to control how we learn or how we get knowledge about the world

* What are the main functions of cognitive control related to speech?

efficiently – using as few resources as possible to obtain a certain result or outcome

* We don’t have any extra cash this month, so we need to use our money for food as efficiently as possible.

senior – an older person, usually someone who is retired, maybe older than 60 or 65

* Do seniors have to pass any special tests before they can renew their driver’s license?

bilingual – able to speak more than one language well

* Shannon is bilingual in English and Korean.

magnitude – a measurement of the size or importance of something

* Everybody makes mistakes, but the magnitude of that error was unacceptable.

subject – a person, animal, or other living thing that is being changed and studied in a scientific experiment

* In the most recent experiment, subjects were asked to stay awake for 48 hours and then answer some test questions.

to expend – to spend, invest, or use, especially to use all of something

* It must be disappointing to expend so much time and energy on a project and then have it be canceled.

to out-perform (someone) – to perform better than another person; to do something better than another person

* Our competitors are out-performing us in sales for the second year in a row.

monolingual – able to speak only one language

* Bentley is monolingual, but he is sending his daughter to a French immersion school so that she can learn to speak another language.

to keep in store – to maintain a supply ready to use; to reserve in store

* We keep flashlights in store in case there’s a power failure.

to store up – to put away for future use

* We’d like to store up more hay for the winter, but the barn is already full.

to reserve in store – to maintain a supply ready for use; to keep in store

* Of the items you’ve reserved in store, what do you expect to sell over the next six months?

to think about – to have something as the subject of one’s thoughts

* What are you thinking about?

to think of – to have an opinion; to have an idea for something that has never been made or done before

* What do you think of the new policy?

What Insiders Know
Non-English Languages in the United States

About 80% of the U.S. population “claims” (says to be true) that English is their “native language” (the language one learns first as a child), and about 95% say they speak English well. But many other languages are spoken “within the nation’s borders” (within the United States).

As of 2013, more than 12% of the population speaks Spanish, making it the second most common language in the United States. Most of the Spanish speakers are Latinos who have their “roots” (ancestry; where one’s family is from) in Latin America, although many of them were born in the United States.

Approximately 337 languages are spoken in the United States, including many Native American languages that are spoken by very small groups of people. Some of the more commonly spoken languages include Chinese, French, German, Vietnamese, Tagalog, and Korean.

The United States does not have an “official language” at the “federal” (national level), although some people are trying to change that and some states have “adopted” (accepted) “legislation” (laws) that “stipulate” (state) an official language. Many argue, however, that an official language is not necessary since “immigrants” (people from elsewhere who move to a country to live) already learn English at very high rates and limiting the languages the government uses to communicate with them will only slow their “acculturation” (adjustment to and the fitting in to a new culture or community).

A few states are “de facto” (in reality; in fact) bilingual even without legislation. Louisiana officially recognizes English and French, and those two languages are de facto in Maine. And New Mexico is de facto bilingual in English and Spanish.