Encouraging your child to learn a second language isn’t just about giving them knowledge of vocabulary and grammar from another country. There’s a lot more to this gift than meets the eye.
Whether it’s boosting your child’s cognitive ability and overall test scores, or just helping to improve their brains, boost critical thinking and knowledge of international culture, the benefits of being bilingual are numerous and potent:
First of all, it increases cognitive ability and can even lead to higher test scores. While it is lamentable that our world is still so drive by standardized test scores, we should still take every advantage we can get. According to studies listed on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) website, there is a large body of evidence to support the notion that learning a second language helps with academic achievement.
Secondly, it allows young people to think in a whole new way. When you ger really familiar with a new language, you start to think about concepts in a whole new way. A second language demands that we express ideas using different syntax and logic. It may require us to use metaphor or euphemism, or conversely to be more direct and literal. Either way, it lends a whole new perspective to a child’s thinking process, inspiring more of those “Eureka” moments along the way.
Next, and perhaps unexpectedly for some, a second language can greatly increase capacity for empathy. It should never be underestimated just how much understanding it takes to know when to use one language or another when communicating to another human being. What it takes is the speaker being able to comprehend which words will fall most effectively and kindly upon the ears of the interlocutor. If that’s not the perfect exercise in empathy, then we’re not sure what is.
A study in Canada found that being bilingual may have protective effects on your brain against problems like dementia and even Alzheimer’s. The study pointed to findings among Alzheimer’s patients in Canada, a group of bilingual adults, while showing greater brain atrophy than their monolingual counterparts, were nonetheless able to perform better in a series of cognitive tests carried out for the research. It appears that there may be a link between being bilingual and that kind of shielding effect that despite atrophy keeps your mind going for longer.
Being bilingual means being skilled, and skills bring confidence, which in turn drives happiness and contentment. Researchers Wayne Thomas and Virginia Collier extensively compared single-language classrooms to dual-lingual classrooms, finding that students not only performed better (as mentioned above) but also were happier in their school lives. Could it be that the confidence they gain, admiration and respect from peers, and the ability to comfortably communicate with more people around them adds up to greater happiness?
Becoming bilingual isn’t like flipping a switch for children, and there are drawbacks as well as benefits, of course. For many, however, seeing the difference in their child’s ability, personality and modes of thinking is enough to drive them to making that all-important decision to nurture them in a second language.
By Thomas Longrigg