Bilingual education is growing by leaps and bounds in the United States, but we are still behind almost all countries in the world. What should we do as parents and caregivers to give our children opportunities to learn another language? This isn't an easy answer for most. We don't all have the means or opportunity to place our children in bilingual care or teach them another language when we are monolingual. If you are lucky enough to be bilingual, trilingual or more - don't forget to share this with your children. It's especially important when they are young.
6 Brain Building Benefits
1. Flexible Brains
Dr Patricia Kuhl from the University of WA Institute for Learning & Brain Science, says bilingual babies are “more cognitively flexible” than monolingual ones. This means they see more than one way of doing or solving things, so they are better at solving puzzles, for example.
2. Increased Executive Functioning
Knowing when to use one language over another is a skill that is built in the prefrontal cortex of the brain and is one skill found in executive functioning. The ability to pay attention to who you are talking to, to not use a language with someone who doesn't speak it, and to go between languages quickly (called "task switching") are all amazing benefits of bilingualism on the brain. These skills help young children focus and learn when they get to school.
Having the social skills to know which language to use with whom actually makes young children more empathetic. This is called "theory of mind", or the ability to see someone else as a being with their own consciousness. For little ones, it is the understanding that other people have thoughts, wants, and feelings that are different from their own.
There are many advantages to learning another language when we are young. In fact, the most important period for language learning is birth to 7 years old.
One study completed in Portland, OR found that dual-language students outperformed their peers in English-reading skills by a full school year's worth of learning by the end of middle school. Why? They were better at reading comprehension even if they weren't fully literate in English.
5. Overall School Performance
In studies covering six states in the US, researchers found that, compared with students in English-only classrooms, dual-language students have somewhat higher test scores. Attendance is better, behavioral problems fewer, parent involvement higher.
6. Protection Against Alzheimer's & Dementia
A Canadian study found that bilingual seniors had the same level of cognitive functioning despite having more brain atrophy (5-7 years!) than their monolingual peers.