In an increasingly small world, bilingual education is something that children can benefit from for the rest of their lives. Being bilingual has a profound effect on the brain and can open up a broad variety of academic, economic and societal opportunities leading into adulthood.
Bilingual education has been proven to be a secret weapon in supercharging children’s learning and even changing the structure of the human brain. This article touches on some of the main benefits of receiving a bilingual education, plus some of the things parents should think about if they’re considering a bilingual education for their child.
The benefits of bilingual education last a lifetime and cover many different aspects of life. Here are eight of the most significant:
Learning a second language is one of the most effective ways of boosting brain capacity. A review of relevant studies by the National Education Association (NEA) found a sweeping range of cognitive benefits to young children learning a second language.
Among them are tasks that call for creative thinking, pattern recognition and problem-solving, all of which children that know a second language perform better in. Young learners will also develop greater linguistic awareness and a more complex understanding of their native language.
They’ve even been found to have better self-esteem and a greater sense of achievement in their academic pursuits.
Add all of the cognitive benefits together and you have a child that is equipped with all the tools they need for academic success.
Bilingual students’ brain function is improved as the mind is challenged to recognise, find meaning and communicate in multiple languages. This cognitive flexibility makes bilingual children more able to think critically and analyse complex information.
A thirty-two year study by Thomas and Collier from George Mason University indicated that students who had a bilingual education and that spoke multiple languages had greater achievements than their monolingual peers, especially in maths, reading and vocabulary.
The same review from the NEA also discovered that bilingual children often do better at standardised tests than those who know only a single language.
Children who learn multiple languages have stronger memories and are more cognitively creative.
Research in 2013 in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology indicated that bilingual people are usually better at remembering names, directions and items than those who speak one language.
Many of these benefits are centred around the short and medium-term, but people can still reap the rewards of bilingual education long into old age.
A recent study from the University of York in Canada found that people who speak more than one language develop dementia symptoms an average of five years later and can cope with a greater level of brain dysfunction than their monolingual counterparts.
In an interconnected and rapidly changing world, there is an increased need for a multilingual workforce and the ability to conduct business in more than one language is becoming more critical. Bilingual people often hold higher positions and earn better incomes than monolinguals in the same industry.
Business is only going more global, so having the ability to communicate with customers in more than one market is always going to be attractive to employers. It also opens doors for those who wish to move and work abroad.
The demand for bilinguals is increasing rapidly. According to the New American Economy, the number of job postings in the U.S. requiring bilingual skills more than doubled between 2010 and 2015, rising to 630,000. A child with a bilingual education puts themselves ahead of the competition for these high-skilled roles.
In a globalised society, travel is becoming an ever more essential part of growing up. As teenagers hit adulthood, more of them decide to head overseas in search of adventure and discovery.
Individuals who have a second language give themselves the best chance to embrace the world that awaits them. Being able to talk directly with locals or fellow travellers inspires confidence in circumstances that might otherwise be daunting. Better equipped to make friends and embrace new cultures, travelling can be an even richer experience when you have the gift of knowing the native language of the countries you visit.
The exposure to two languages assists students in developing an appreciation for differences in cultures. Students can engage with languages through folk tales, songs, idioms and other primary sources of information without requiring translation; leading to more meaningful cultural exchanges.
The classes themselves are also a great opportunity to teach children about diversity and promote equality. Bilingual education programmes tend to have a balance of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Exposure to cultural differences in childhood is a contributing factor in building a more tolerable individual that promotes equality in the modern world.
The executive function is a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing other mentally demanding tasks. Bilingual people are better able to sort out relevant information from irrelevant information, meaning they can focus better and be more effective thinkers and decision-makers.
Bilingual learners tend to perform better on tasks that require multi-tasking, complex decision making and problem-solving. It also leads to less-emotionally charged and more critically analysed decisions being made. When we think through a problem in a second or third language, we distance ourselves from biases or emotional associations with certain concepts and ideas. It allows us to think more systematically and evidence-based to make decisions based purely on the facts.
If you are a parent weighing up the possibility of giving your child a bilingual education, what factors do you need to think about? Here are the answers to two of the most frequently asked questions:
Before you select the right school for your child, make sure you know the curriculum back to front.
International schools usually deliver the International Baccalaureate Diploma, a world-renowned academic certification that will include the learning of a new language. At some bilingual schools, your child may be taught the national curriculum of that country, and classes may not be delivered in both languages equally.
Be sure to discuss the curriculum and certification of each school before you make any firm decisions.
This is ultimately down to individual circumstances but is something that requires consideration.
Second languages are beneficial in all the cognitive, social and economic ways we’ve outlined here, but which language will maximise all of these to bring the most out of bilingual education? If English isn’t the native language they are learning at home, it’s the most spoken language in the western world and essential to opening travel and work-based opportunities in Europe and America.
Other opportunities include Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and Arabic. Each of these are spoken by significant portions of the world population. Consider your family’s location, native tongue and future prospects before selecting a second language.
Nord Anglia Education delivers outstanding educational opportunities to children in 29 countries around the world. Our international and bilingual schools harness all of these advantages discussed here to make our students ready to capitalise on the unique opportunities bilingualism affords. To find a Nord Anglia School near you, head to our school’s page.