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10 Studies about Teaching Children to be Bilingual

Statistics show that Spanish speakers have grown more than 50% in the last 10 years.  Now there are more people in the U.S. that speak Spanish that almost all of the other languages combined.  In this world of Internet use, Skyping and outsourcing it is becoming increasingly important that we all know a second language.  Knowing any second language will increase test scores on ACT/SAT according to studies.  Check out 10 studies that address the benefit of teaching children a second language.

  1. Being Bilingual boosts brain power: According to a study done at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, children who grow up bilingual use their brain differently than monolingual people and in doing so exercise it more.  Throughout life the brain is always thinking in both languages, but has to keep the two separate so that they can answer in the chosen language.  This is easy for the brain to do and bilingual people do it without even thinking about it. 
  2. Bilingual children are better able to focus:  Studies show that children who learn two languages before the age of 5 are better able to focus on tasks than there monolingual counterpart.  A greater ability to block out distractions and better memory skills are also found in children who have learned two languages from an early age.
  3. Denser brain matter: A study performed by Andrea Mechelli of London’s Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience and colleagues found that there is a difference in the brain matter of a bilingual person versus a monolingual person.  Denser brain matter is linked to better overall communication skills and other left brain activities as well.
  4. Better understanding of language as an abstract: This study looked into concerns that bilingual children ages 0-5 would be delayed in their cognitive development, but this study shows that they reach milestones at roughly the same points as monolingual kids.  It also addressed concerns that those kids would be confused learning two languages at the same time, but this study found that not to be the case.  Apparently there was also the belief that bilingual kids would have “bigger and better brains”.  This also has not proven true, but they do have a better understanding of language and communications.
  5. Enhanced Mental Flexibility: According to a study done at York University being bilingual “strengthens key brain pathways and enhances ‘mental flexibility’”.  Bilingual people constantly switch back and forth between languages and this exercises the pathways in the brain so they are stronger and that exercise causes the person to be better able to think quickly.
  6. Better at prioritizing and multitasking: Judith Kroll, a psychologist at Penn State completed a study on bilingual people and her findings contradicted earlier findings that people who speak two languages have more confusion between the two.  Instead she found that bilingual speakers outperform monolingual speakers in mental tasks such as sorting out pertinent information and concentrating on important details.
  7. Delays onset of Alzheimer’s: Dr. Tom Schweizer of St. Michael’s Hospital has uncovered evidence that bilingualism delays Alzheimer’s.  In their research they found that there is twice as much brain damage in the brain before any symptoms are apparent.  The studies found that this delay may be up to five years.
  8. Brain stays flexible to learning languages longer:   Babies were tested at the age of 8-10 months old.  Those that are bilingual could tell the difference between sounds in both languages whereas monolingual babies could only detect those in their own language.  Researchers found that in children who are exposed to two languages from the beginning, there is a much longer window in which to learn languages easily.  The older you get the harder it is to learn a new language fluently.  This study was published in the Journal of Phonetics.
  9. Bilingual benefits may drop off as kids get older: This Swedish study found that at an early age the bilingual child had an advantage over their monolingual counter-part.  However, this study tested kids ages 7-12 and found that the monolingual children catch up and may surpass the bilingual kids if the secondary language is not consistently reinforced at school.  This study was done on children who spoke Persian at school and either Turkish or Kurdish at home.  It was determined that once the kids spent more time using Persian and less time using their home language that the benefits decreased and actually caused some confusion for the bilingual children.
  10. Better executive processing: According to a Canadian study done by Ellen Bialystok the bilingual child that has grown up with two languages has better executive processing skills.  When tested the bilingual children were better able to sort through shapes, animals, and colors on a computer test versus their monolingual peers.  The executive processing controls multitasking, decision making, quickly comparing pros and cons of an argument so it stands to reason that bilingual kids have an advantage because they are used to switching language around in their head. She also determined that dementia like Alzheimer’s is delayed in bilingual persons.
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