Benefits of Being Bilingual
Benefits of Being Bilingual
BECOME MORE OPEN-MINDED AND BRIDGE CULTURE GAPS
The first seven years of a child’s life is when a child’s belief system is formed. Learning a different language can make them more aware of cultural differences, they also come to understand why those differences exist and the importance of respecting cultures different from their own. Language learning can inspire solidarity, tolerance, and understanding.
Dr. Katherine Kinzler, at Cornell University, tested monolingual and bilingual children on a task which required them to consider someone else’s perspective to understand her meaning. Children in bilingual environments PERFORM BETTER than monolingual children. As Dr. Kinzler explains, “children in multilingual environments have social experiences that provide routine practice in considering the perspectives of others: they have to think about who speaks which language to whom, who understands which content, and the times and places in which different languages are spoken.
Language and culture are so intertwined that learning a foreign language both builds cultural understanding and provides deep insights into how other people see the world. Linguistic relativists argue the way we SEE THE WORLD is shaped by the language we use. Research has even shown that the same person may have different responses to questions depending on the LANGUAGE the question is asked in!
IT GROWS KIDS’ BRAINS
Study results out of the American Academy of Neurology are showing that speaking more than one language increases the number of neural pathways in the brain, allowing information to be processed through a greater variety of channels. They are BETTER AT TASKS that require multi-tasking and attention focusing than monolinguals. Brain scans show they have MORE GRAY MATTER in the regions of their brain that are involved in executive function. The hypothesis is that the effort to constantly choose the right language at the right time provides a “mental gymnastics” for bilinguals which gives them extra practice in focusing their attention. These benefits show up early – even babies less than a year old who are exposed to multiple languages show different COGNITIVE PATTERNS in their brain compared to monolinguals. In fact, some researchers argue that the best way to have smarter kids is to expose them to multiple languages when they are young.
IMPROVED MEMORY AND HELPS PREVENT AGE-RELATED COGNITIVE DECLINE
Learning a language forces you to improve your listening skills. It also improves your memory and increases your attention span. The process of becoming bilingual exercises your brain and challenges you to concentrate. Some studies also show that people who regularly speak a second language may be able to delay in ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE and other types of dementia by 4.5 years. The hypothesis is that by improving the executive function of the brain, bilinguals develop a “cognitive reserve” which helps delay symptoms.
HIGHER TEST SCORES
Studies of tens of thousands of high school students have found that students who have studied foreign languages PERFORM BETTER on the American College Test (ACT) for English and Mathematics. Additional studies have found that SAT-verbal scores IMPROVE with the length of time students have studied the foreign language. So if you want your child to ace those tests, encourage him/her to learn a foreign language.
YOU CAN SPEAK TO MORE PEOPLE
When you can speak to people in their own language you deepen connections and understanding, therefore, it opens doors around the world —whether traveling through a foreign country or shopping at the local grocery store. Many would argue that bilingualism is becoming a progressively necessary and essential skill for anyone as we shift towards a more integrated and connected global society. While English has become the lingua franca of the world, learning a foreign language (or two) increases opportunities for connection and begins the many benefits of bilingualism.
BUILDS CONFIDENCE WHILE HAVING FUN
Confidence increases when a new skill is mastered, and learning a foreign language is no different. It increases your self-confidence and sense of achievement. Sure, there’s a joy that comes from being able to speak to others in their native language – But part of the fun of learning a foreign language is discovering differences in how people look at the world. It’s fun to think about WHY DOGS SAY “WOOF” in English, “wang wang” in Mandarin and “guau” in Spanish. It’s also fun to discover words in a foreign language that don’t exist in your native tongue. Take the Tagalog word, “gigil”, which means “the irresistible urge to pinch/squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished.” Shouldn’t every language have that word?
CONNECTS KIDS TO THEIR HERITAGE
A big reason many parents want their children to learn a foreign language is so they can speak to family members in their native tongue. Not only can learning the language improve communication, it comes along with a great deal of cultural insight that can help children appreciate their family’s perspective. While many parents aspire for relatives to help teach children their native language, it turns out that can be a challenge. As kids get older they often learn they can get away with speaking English, and relatives often prioritize understanding over teaching. As a result, heritage language learners’ language level will often plateau unless they also receive formal education in the language. The distinct needs and opportunities for heritage language learners has been a hot topic for language education researchers lately, with many studies showing the EFFECTIVENESS OF DUAL LANGUAGE IMMERSION programs. Being a heritage language learner is a great opportunity, and language classes tailored to their needs can help them reach full fluency.
Multilingual people are able to communicate and interact within multiple communities. Language education is becoming critical for the workforce of the future and being bilingual can broaden career options. Many jobs in education, healthcare, international business, politics, national security, translation, tourism, and social work require or favor candidates who are bilingual, resulting in more job opportunities for those who can speak a second language. And speaking a foreign language can make it easier to be eligible for internships and work-study programs in other countries – especially if you have critical skills.
IT BOOSTS KIDS’ ABILITIES IN THEIR NATIVE LANGUAGE
Years ago people believed that learning a second language would confuse a child. Now, research shows that children who study a foreign language PERFORM BETTER in their native language than non-bilingual students, as measured on standardized tests. Other research has shown that children learning a second language start READING EARLIER, and the advantage increases the earlier they are exposed to the second language. In addition, bilingual children were BETTER at identifying grammatically incorrect sentences than monolinguals. As GOETHE SAID, “Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”
INCREASE CREATIVITY AND PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS
Much has been written about how many JOBS IN THE FUTURE WILL BE AUTOMATED – with tasks requiring ingenuity and creativity being left to humans. How then to build creative thinking skills in children? One of the surprising ways is by learning a second language. Several studies have demonstrated greater creativity and problem-solving skills amongst bilinguals. Learning a foreign language helps children see the world through DIFFERENT LENSES. The ability to consider multiple viewpoints to a problem is a cornerstone of creative problem-solving. Language skills forces you to reach for alternate words when you can’t quite remember the original one you wanted to use. It improves your skills in divergent thinking, which is the ability to identify multiple solutions to a single problem. Switching between languages causes the part of your brain responsible for problem-solving and filtering information to work more efficiently.
EASIER TO LEARN MORE LANGUAGES
After learning one language, IT GETS EASIER TO LEARN OTHERS. The positive cognitive effects of learning to speak a second language can train the brain to analyze and process different linguistic structures. It’s not specific to your first target language — it’s a skill that can be applied to learning any language. We’ve all heard babies described as “sponges” for learning language. The CRITICAL PERIOD for language acquisition, when your brain is primed to learn is through the age of 7 or 8. During this time, children can learn to speak a second language with fluent grammar and without an accent. After this critical period, the ability to master a foreign language gradually declines. Research conducted by Dr. Patricia Kuhl at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington shows that by 8-12 months, babies are starting to focus in on the sounds that occur in their native language, and are losing their “ear” for sounds in other languages. However, if the babies are exposed to a second language they RETAIN THE ABILITY to distinguish those foreign sounds. So if you want your children to master a foreign language starting as young as possible makes it easier.
MAKES TRAVEL MORE FUN
International travel is an amazing way to broaden children’s perspectives and help them experience the diversity and beauty of the world first hand. Being able to speak the language of the country they’re visiting unlocks the possibility of deeper connections and understanding. And most foreigners will appreciate the effort your children are making even if they aren’t fluent yet. Putting their language skills to use in “real life” can also be a motivation booster for kids. There’s something very special about watching children use their language skills to develop cross-cultural friendships. Whether it’s putting their Spanish to use on a beach in Mexico to build sandcastles with new-found friends, or talking to locals in Mandarin while riding the train from Beijing to Shanghai – speaking the language allows access to experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have – and builds memories for life. Learning a foreign language as a child gives them a lifetime to benefit from more enriching travel experiences. For high school and university students, studying abroad can be a great way to deepen foreign language skills. The US State Department even offers some SCHOLARSHIPS.
IF YOU HAVEN’T REALIZED ALREADY, ALL THE BENEFITS THAT COME WITH LEARNING ANOTHER LANGUAGE WILL MAKE YOU AN AWESOME GLOBAL CITIZEN. IT’S PRETTY MUCH A SUPERPOWER!
Resource: TED TALK The benefits of a bilingual brain.
National Education Association (NEA) Research, December 2007. Regarding World Language Education: COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW