The Positive Effects of Learning a Second Language as a Kid

Raising children to speak multiple languages can have psychological and academic benefits, as the positive effects of learning a second language as a kid are numerous. Here is how to assist your children in acquiring another language.

The ability to speak and comprehend multiple languages can open up a world of opportunity. As a multilingual individual, I have personally experienced some of these benefits. Overall, it has broadened my perspective on the world and its diverse cultures.

Not only can I interact with the Spanish-speaking side of my family, but I’ve also visited Spanish-speaking places and translated for others. This in-demand skill has also resulted in many job offers being presented to me.

All of these benefits are accessible to bilingual children. Read on for the benefits of raising a bilingual child and advice on how to raise a multilingual child.

The Advantages of Being a Bilingual Child

In a research of 127 individuals published in January 2021 in the journal Scientific Reports, two cognitive benefits of early bilingualism (learning two languages as a child) were revealed.

First, they were better able to detect visual changes than individuals who learned a second language later in life. The second study found that early bilinguals had more control over their capacity to transfer their attention from one visual to another, which may be a result of frequent practice of “shifting” between languages.

While these are all excellent benefits of being bilingual (and multilingual), experts are continuously discovering other advantages.

Encourages empathy.

It has been discovered that children reared with at least two languages have stronger social awareness.

For instance, according to a 2013 paper in Learning Landscapes Journal, bilingual children tend to exhibit greater empathy than their monolingual counterparts. Particularly, multilingual children demonstrated greater comprehension of the following:

  • Other points of view
  • Additional concepts.
  • Other desires.
  • Additional objectives
  • Vocal intonation

A portion of this advantage is attributable to a more robust language system that can detect certain communication characteristics, such as prosody with more ease (the rhythm of speech and tone of voice). This developmental experience is considered distinct from that of monolingual children and promotes a more robust comprehension of another’s perspective or theory of mind.

Yet, developing empathy alone is insufficient to be considered beneficial. Dr. Boxer says that it is essential to manage these empathetic sentiments and differentiate between one’s needs and those of others.

Enhances cognitive function.

Being multilingual is beneficial to a child’s cognitive development. “They are stronger at planning, problem-solving, focus, and multitasking,” says Tierra Encantada co-founder Kristen Denzer.

According to Denzer, who has a psychology and educational policy background, these cognitive benefits can be observed early on. According to a 2009 study published, “infants immersed in a dual-language environment displayed superior executive functioning as early as seven months of age when compared to their monolingual peers.”

Moreover, according to her, these benefits may last into old age by averting brain problems that often manifest in the mid-60s. Bilingual persons can delay the beginning of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by an average of four years compared to monolingual individuals.

According to 2017 research published in Clinical Interventions in Aging, bilingualism is an effective technique for postponing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. What’s the reason? Bilingualism can contribute to the improvement of cognitive reserve (resilience to neuropathological damage in the brain).

Unfortunately, this topic’s research needs to be more consistent and widely contested. While some study suggests that bilinguals have superior executive function and a lower risk of developing dementia later in life, other studies have produced contradictory findings. Thus, there is no scientific consensus regarding the cognitive benefits of bilingualism.

Academic Advantage

Bilingual youngsters may have an educational benefit, including in literacy. Studies have demonstrated that when a youngster learns a second language, they learn to read more quickly than monolingual classmates.

Denzer highlights a 2000 study on bilingualism and literacy, which shows that bilingualism improves reading skills.

Moreover, learning two languages at a young age may diminish skill in the dominant language. Yet, earlier research also demonstrates the benefits of literacy, such as bilingual children’s superior performance than monolingual children on tests of metalinguistic awareness and the acquisition of new words.

Another 2016 study examined the outcomes of dual-language immersion programs for pupils. Researchers discovered that after four years (Kindergarten through third grade) of immersion learning, pupils’ reading and speaking scores were comparable across all evaluated language skills, regardless of their native language. In listening and writing, however, individuals whose native language was Spanish excelled with their immersion classmates.

Children that are bilingual may also perform better academically. A 2013 study published in the Bilingual Research Journal, for instance, indicated that two-way immersion programs might improve the reading and math skills of both minority- and majority-language kids.

Furthermore, a 2017 study published by Cambridge University Press indicated that children who are exposed to more than one language at a young age have a greater potential for future language acquisition. This can provide them a competitive advantage when they begin their professional careers, since an increasing number of businesses want applicants who speak many languages.

How to Assist Your Child in Mastering a Second Language

So, if you want your kids to benefit from learning a second language, how can you assist them in achieving it?

Begin early.

Be proactive and start as soon as possible, ideally before giving birth. As a child’s auditory processing comes online at approximately 30 weeks gestation, language acquisition commences.

As their brains assimilate the sounds of language, precise adjustments are produced to the language center so that they can acquire words in their own language as rapidly as possible. This process is visible at birth, when infants cry in their original language’s accent.

In addition, it has long been acknowledged that youngsters may learn a second language more easily than adults. Typically, children who acquire a second language are indistinguishable from native speakers; however, adults who study a second language have more trouble obtaining the correct accent and grammar.

The good news is that, according to a 2018 study published in Cognition, the learning rate does not begin to diminish until around the age of 17 years. This indicates that it is never too late for a youngster to begin learning a second language, regardless of their age.

Seek helpful tools.

Immersion is essential for acquiring a second language. If you do not speak a second language at home, use the following strategies to enhance exposure to the second language:

  • Reading bilingual books.
  • Have play dates with bilingual friends.
  • Employing bilingual nannies.
  • Getting exposure to the second language on-screen.

If possible and preferred by your family, investigate language-focused educational options. Dual immersion schools are frequently highly efficient at introducing and reinforcing new languages.

And take advantage if your household has two bilingual caretakers. To improve language input, Denzer suggests that one parent speak exclusively in English while the other speaks exclusively in the second language.

Don’t be disheartened if you just speak one language.

Denzer believes you’ll need to be “more purposeful” in your approach if you’re a parent who only knows one language and want to raise a child who speaks many languages. Choose similar immersion tools and language immersion programs for early childhood education.

Studying alongside your child is an additional beneficial strategy. Examples include:

  • Take your own language classes at the adult level.
  • Using applications like Duolingo for practice.
  • Your favorite shows with subtitles and subtitled audio in the second language.

In addition, joining online language-learning groups might help you find people to practice your abilities.

Disregard The Myths

Do not concern yourself with the myth that bilingualism confuses children; this is not true. However, parents who worry their children are slipping behind in English should know that children who acquire two or more languages may initially gain vocabulary in each language more slowly than monolingual children, but the gap usually closes between 8 and 10.

One of the most crucial facts to remember is that monolingualism is an exclusively American characteristic. Almost everywhere else in the world, children are exposed to more than one language, occasionally even three or four. When seen in this light, it is not surprising that an increasing number of American families are seeking to expand their linguistic talents.

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