Parents face a variety of choices when choosing how to rear their child, and for bilingual parents choosing a language can be a daunting but worthwhile task with myriad benefits.
In the 1960s skeptics believed that learning a second language was unhealthy for the human brain, now researchers at York University in Toronto claim bilingual ability will strengthen the brain and improve focus, reported Allie Gross on the Education Dive website.
“Bilinguals are more efficient in resolving mental competition. They’re apparently able to keep languages separate while keeping them both available and active in their minds at the same time,” said Judith Kroll, psychology professor and director of the Center for Language Science at Penn State, according to KQED.
Parents may have concern over their child’s speech and comprehension ability with dual languages in the home, but they need not fear.
Dr. Ellen Bialystok, at York University, has completed research on the effects of bilingualism on cognitive development for 4- and 8-year-old children.
“Our research has shown that bilingual children have more advanced ability to solve problems in which there is misleading perceptual information than comparable monolingual children who are otherwise at about the same developmental stage,” She wrote on the York University website.
Bialystok’s research, published by the 2011 Canadian Psychological Association, indicates that the brain’s network has an executive control system that uses languages at all times, and the languages get sorted for when they need to be used. This system prevents two languages from becoming mixed up. Thus, the regular use of this executive system, especially by bilinguals, will make it stronger and more efficient.
George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, agrees with Bialystok’s findings.
“Speaking different languages means you get different frames, different metaphors, and also you’re learning the culture of the language so you get not only different words, but different types of words,” Lakoff told The Atlantic.
Lakoff continued to say that speaking multiple languages will also increase an individual’s ability to score better on standardized tests, and also strengthen their memory skills for remembering lists or sequences. Mulitlinguals tend to be more perceptive to their surroundings, and they can better resist surrounding distractions.
Aside from enhanced cognitive development, children who are taught a second language will have a healthier mind when they enter their twilight years.
In a interview with The New York Times, Bialystok said that bilingualism helps deter the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. “On average, the bilinguals showed Alzheimer’s symptoms five or six years later than those who spoke only one language,” Bialystok said.
If bilingual parents are trying to decide which language they should speak in their home, with their child, the most strategic decision may be both languages.
Claire Bowern, a columnist for Slate, suggested, “Speak to your daughter in whatever language you want. You won’t be doing her a disservice by speaking to her in both her languages. In fact, you may even be doing her a favor.”