5 Reasons Why Kids Should Learn a Second Language

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As a parent or teacher, I am sure you have heard people say how awesome it is for kids to learn another language. In fact, you've probably heard that "kids are like sponges" and you should teach them "the earlier, the better," right? While this certainly sounds great (hint: it is), wouldn't you like to know why? Well, there are actually many really important reasons why it is beneficial to expose children to a foreign language early in their development. 

However, before I share my favorites, here is a quick video showing why learning a second language is so important for kids: 


Since there are too many fantastic reasons to share, I have chosen the 5 that I feel are the strongest and most important. Hopefully, once you finish reading them you will want to bring a world language into your classroom or home!

1. Boosts brain power

First, learning another language can actually make you smarter! No joke! Specifically, the brains of bilingual and multilingual children develop more densely, as found by researchers analyzing the brain densities of bilingual people. As seen in the image below, bilingual people have a higher volume of gray matter than monolinguals. Gray matter is responsible for processing information, including memory, speech, and sensory perception. Thus, I'd say a pretty reason for learning another language!


*Results from a study measuring gray-matter volumes in monolingual or bilingual undergraduates. Red areas indicate where gray-matter volumes were greater in one group versus the other. In total, study participants who spoke both English and Spanish had greater gray-matter volume compared to participants who spoke only English. 
CREDIT: ADAPTED FROM O.A. OLULADE ET AL / CEREBRAL CORTEX 2016

In fact, research shows that even babies less than a year old who are exposed to multiple languages show different cognitive patterns in their brains compared to people who only speak one language. In fact, some researchers argue that the best way to have smarter kids is to expose them to multiple languages when they are young! 

You can read more about these studies here if you are interested, as well as:


2. Better problem-solving and other cognitive abilities



Children that speak more than one language learn to negotiate meaning as a crucial part of communicating in more than one language system. This also helps them with problem-solving tasks and gives children the ability to seek different approaches to solve a problem. Research shows that there is a relation between bilingualism and several abilities, including the ability to think abstractly about language and think nonverbally. 

So, how does this work? Well, to maintain the relative balance between two languages, the bilingual brain relies on executive functions, a regulatory system of general cognitive abilities that includes processes such as attention and inhibition. Because both of a bilingual person’s language systems are always active and competing, that person uses these control mechanisms every time she or he speaks or listens. This constant practice strengthens the control mechanisms and changes the associated brain regions (see The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual). Interesting, right?

3. Higher academic achievement and test scores




Studies have shown that learning a foreign language early in life improves cognitive abilities and influences achievement in other areas, resulting in higher test scores in vocabulary, reading and math. Studies have found that students that speak more than one language score higher on standardized college admission exams than monolingual students. In addition, as kids learn to go from one language to another, multitasking abilities improve. Bilingual individuals have also been shown to be more logical and rational, have better decision-making skills, and are more perceptive and aware of their surroundings.

4. A better understanding of other cultures and connecting with people that speak other languages




Children who speak more than one language have the opportunity to become more culturally aware and have the ability to better understand and appreciate cultural differences, which helps them be more open to different ways of thinking. Bilingual children have the opportunity to connect with people that speak other languages; this allows kids to have cross-cultural friendships, broader career opportunities, exciting travel adventures, and deeper insights into how others see the world (read more here).

According to a study at Penn State University, 

The overwhelming access to networks of communities all over the world is cut short without a background in the language of the culture itself. Learning a foreign language allows us to better understand a culture by providing a way to interact with locals and break the initial language barrier that holds two people back from fully engaging with each other. The benefits of having more culturally aware students are numerous, and the effects are immeasurable. Learning a second language allows cross-cultural communication, and opens the door to an entire network of people that a person might not have had contact with before. It allows for an exchange for cultural norms and practices, furthering one’s education in respect to life different than their own. 

This is also especially important if children have close family members who do not speak English. By learning to speak the relative's native tongue, children can open up a whole new world and create a lasting bond. Speaking another language allows kids to understand other perspectives and embrace views other than their own, which has become increasingly important in this day and age.

5. Kids who know more than one language actually have a better understanding of their first language




In truth, most of the time we use our first language with little thought to grammatical rules. When kids can compare their first language with another language, they learn more than they ever could as monolingual speakers. In fact, children use what they learn in one language to reinforce concepts and terms they’ve learned in the other. Further, bilingual children are able to interpret and comprehend written language with greater ease than monolinguistic children and are better at grammatical judgment and word recognition. This leads to a better grasp of a child's native language, including a larger, richer vocabulary. Who wouldn't want that? 

Conclusion


Hopefully, this has encouraged you to check out bringing another language into your child's or students' lives. For more information, definitely check out the ACTFL's list of benefits and resources! Finally, kids like it too...here are some reasons why:


by Marcy | Fabulous Classroom

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