It turns out that learning a second language is great for the whole family!
Have you ever thought about teaching your kids English (or any other language) from an early age?
When I decided to regularly expose my children to Spanish beginning as soon as they came home from the hospital – I heard a number of comments (criticisms, really) from friends and family. They would say things like, “Isn’t that going to confuse them?” – or “I heard that might hurt their grades.” I laughed it off. After all, my friends and family were simply repeating things they’ve heard for years! In fact, these sorts of ideas have persisted for many years despite research that has shown all the wonderful benefits of being bilingual.
In a future blog post maybe we will discuss the early stage language development of bilingual kids – but today we’re going to look at another impact that being bilingual has on the brain’s of children: improvements in working memory and processing information!
Yes, that’s right! Researchers at the University of Granada and University of York in Toronto have found that multilingual children develop a better working memory than monolingual children. That means they are able to hold more numbers, ideas, and concepts in their short-term working memory at the same time. This is useful for all sorts of activities – from math to reading comprehension and more. The more items we are able to hold in our working memory, the better we are able to understand and problem solve in the real world. The study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, found that the bilingual children performed even better the more complex the task! In other words, the benefits to the working memory were even more obvious as the tasks became more difficult. Wow!
On a related note, research at Northwestern University, led by Viorica Marian, found that the mental exercise of switching between languages actually leaves the brain better able to process information! Marian indicates that this is likely because bilingual brains are good at suppressing irrelevant information (words and sounds in the other language) in order to focus on only the relevant information they need. This skill is not only used in language, but of course in most other aspects of life too! I would say that being able to stay hyper-focused on one task by automatically filtering-out and ignoring all other irrelevant distractions is like a super power!
You can (and should) feel good about all of the benefits you’re giving yourself by being bilingual! And if you’ve chosen to teach your kids another language, that’s awesome! They’re going to enjoy a mental advantage for the rest of their lives.
University of Granada. “Bilingual children have a better ‘working memory’ than monolingual children.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130220084444.htm>.