Are bilingual children smarter? 7 reasons to teach your child a second language: from the cognitive to cultural benefits

1. Bilingual babies develop specific cognitive functions for speech development.
According to researchers from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, bilingual infants “can discriminate phonetic units from both languages with increasing age. Our results suggest that bilingual infants’ brain responses to speech differ from the pattern shown by monolingual infants.”

2. Bilingualism boosts brain performance: children who speak two languages multitask better.
According to Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, kids who use a second language are better than their monolingual peers at prioritizing. Why? They must retrieve specific semantic and syntactical rules from the intended language–a function of what she calls the brain’s “executive control system.”

3. Children who learn a second language think more creatively and flexibly.
According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, learning a second language at an early age gives children more flexibility in their thinking process. Developing a greater sensitivity to language and a better ear for listening, kids who learn another language also improve their understanding of their own. They do better in school and score higher on language tests, more able to fulfill high school and college language requirements.


4. Learning a second language can delay the onset of dementia.
According to UCLA scholar Jared Diamond, author of the article The Benefits of Multilingualism, studies show bilingualism can protect against symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Research suggests that bilingual speakers delay onset of the disease for an extra four years on average compared with those who speak only one language.

5. Studying a foreign language enhances cultural sensitivity and tolerance for differences.
According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, research shows that positive “attitudes towards the target language community may be outcomes of second language learning.”  Whether passing your heritage language on to your children or teaching kids to embrace different ideas and customs, everyone benefits from learning the idioms, folk stories, musical traditions, literature and poetry of different cultures.

6. People who learn another language communicate more effectively across cultures.
All children learn the conversational rules and social discourses used for different settings–called “social registers.” Children who observe and practice this pragmatic knowledge in more than one language deal better with challenges communicating in a foreign country. Bilingual people are also more sensitive to the communication aspects of foreign speakers in their own country.

7. Being bilingual enhances the possibility for greater employment benefits in a global world.
According to futurist Paul Saffro, “children born today will spend part of their lives abroad, if they are successful professionals, in the same way their parents moved to different states.” Language and communication skills will help them attain prosperous careers–from transportation and tourism to administration, public relations, banking, law and education.

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