The top 5 benefits of learning a second language from birth
The benefits of teaching your child a foreign language from an early age are numerous and well-documented. In fact, hearing a second language from birth can mean it is spoken with greater fluency in later life, as you are able to pick up subtle nuances which can be imperceptible to the ear in later childhood and adult life.
As an adult, learning a language can be a difficult and laborious task, so we often fear that introducing a language too early can cause children confusion. In fact, the opposite is true. Due to their brain plasticity, babies are uniquely able to learn multiple languages at once with great ease – without confusion or delays to the learning of their native language.
During this amazing but short window of time, babies and young children are uniquely equipped to learn multiple languages – more than at any other point in their lives!
But are there broader advantages to learning a second language in early life?
In short, yes! The benefits to cerebral development & cognition are numerous and wide-ranging. But, to give a brief idea, here’s a rundown of the top 5 reasons to start learning a second language as young as possible.
1. Higher IQ in later life.
Studies have shown that babies raised in a bilingual environment become bored more easily when repeatedly shown the same image, but by contrast demonstrate a greater interest in new stimuli. These traits are known to be found in individuals with higher IQs at pre-school age and beyond. This is thought to be due to the more complex cognitive processes that bilingual children’s brains process compared to those who speak just one language.
2. Greater performance in tests.
Children who learn a second language from an early age have also been shown to outperform their peers in standardised testing at school age. Bilingual children demonstrate greater skills in areas such as Maths, Spelling and Reading comprehension. This is due to them having developed a better ‘working memory’ – the cognitive system that holds and processes large chunks of information. It is thought that switching between languages means a bilingual child’s brain has to develop better ‘working memory’ at an earlier age than their monolingual peers.
3. Greater levels of concentration
Children in bilingual households are also able to focus better and pay closer attention to tasks. These are the brain’s ‘Executive Functions’ and children who speak more than just one language engage them earlier in order to be able to differentiate the many complex differences between their native and second language. Due to this ‘code-switching’ their brain’s ‘Executive Functions’ are much more highly developed, leading to greater ability to filter out irrelevant information to the task in hand. The result being greater overall focus and concentration.
4. Slower brain ageing in later life
Research shows that speaking a second language can slow the brain’s ageing process and even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and Dementia. A recent study carried out by Edinburgh University found that switching between a native and second language and the different sounds, words and grammatical structures necessary when engaging in bilingual speech, served as a form of natural brain training. Thomas Bak, of Edinburgh University’s school of philosophy, psychology and language sciences commented: “These findings suggest that bilingualism might have a stronger influence on dementia than any currently available drugs.1 “
5.Greater problem solving and creative thinking
It seems that children who speak more than one language are also better at problem solving, conflict resolution and creative thinking. In a recent study in Scotland and Sardinia of bilingual and monolingual children, researchers observed that the bilingual participants were “significantly more successful in the tasks set for them”.
Dr Fraser Lauchlan who led the study says “Bilingualism is now largely seen as being beneficial to children.” “Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively.”
A further conclusion from this study was that bilingual children have greater understanding of words within their lexicon. Dr Fraser comments that “there was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils.2”
These are just some of the reasons why teaching your child another language from birth can give them an even greater start in life. Listening to songs, watching TV or films and reading books with them in another language are just some of the ways to get started. Of course, the easiest and best way would be to take them to your nearest multilingual baby class!
A Guest Blog from Hannah Shannon
Hannah Shannon is the founder of Petit Mundo in Cheltenham. Petit Mundo specialises in Spanish and French classes for Mums and Babies, Toddlers, Preschoolers and KS1 & 2. For information or to book a class please visit www.petitmundo.co.uk. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/
1 ‘Speaking a second language may delay dementia’ – BBC News
2 Bilingual children ‘better at problem-solving skills’ – BBC News