The Neurolinguistic Advantages of Being Bilingual

Benefits of Being Bilingual- Kid World CItizenThe expert studies have shown it. The studies have confirmed the evidence. Brains endowed by studying another language benefit in many ways. Why are our brains in such a great advantage to learn another language besides our own native one? What are the neurolinguistic advantages of being bilingual?

Studies have shown that learning a foreign language improves your cognitive development, allows better language acquisition, and can deter aging. Babies are born with a precondition to learn another language besides their native one.

As bilingual babies are presented with a speaker that talks in the babies’ native language, another speaker is shown talking a different language. When one sound is turned off, these babies can associate the speaker to that language. How is this possible?

Our brains are powered with a critical period and a sensitive period of learning. The critical periods in the brain are biologically essential for development, yet it is not essential in learning.

It is true that babies in the early stages of development are more capable to acquire a language than an older person. But that is mostly due to different processes of phoneme in the brain during the sensitive period. Why is this important?

When babies are raised in a household of more than one language, they are capable of distinguishing between the two languages and develop phoneme awareness. More surprisingly, bilingual babies are more apt to pay attention to detail and manage languages with ease.

They are also able to apply what they learned in infancy to other tasks in life since they had learned to keep both languages separate from each other. They further produce a more ample vocabulary than monolinguals.

Although pronunciation is affected as age progresses, learning the language is not. Even though it takes time to acquire an accent of the local community, persistence in learning is far more rewarding. In fact, learning a foreign language can deter the early signs of aging and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.

Learning another language has far more advantages than studies have shown. As we learn more about how our brains work, it can provide insight into how we learn new languages, and further impact how multilingual families and language schools expose children to new languages.

Barbara is a bilingual teacher in Spanish, math, and science. She is the creator of Spanish4Kiddos Tutoring Services. Spanish4Kiddos is a resource for parents and educators to teach Spanish with an insight into science. As an educator, she believes in a better education for all children. Connect with Barbara at her educational places, on Twitter @spanish4kiddos or Facebook at Spanish4Kiddos.

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  1. Lucinda says

    Do you have any insights on second language learning for a child with a speech delay? We had hoped to learn a second language as a family while our youngest is still small, but since even his primary language is a challenge, we haven’t wanted to overload him. That said, we wonder if there is a chance that the focus on language and pronunciation in second language learning might even be beneficial. Thoughts?

    • says

      Lucinda: My son had a huge speech delay, and the school continued to claim it was because he was an ELL. We were told by “experts” to stop teaching him a 2nd language, and thankfully we ignored them. Here is an article I wrote about him being misidentified:

      I think you need to trust your instincts, because often times specialists only see our kids for such a short time, it is impossible for them to understand the whole story. I also think it helps if you can find a speech and language pathologist who is bilingual! They are much more open to continuing second language learning. I can email you privately if you want to know more about our speech (and now reading) struggles!

  2. says

    How we acquire a language and how we phonetically express it can be two different things. As Becky mentioned, testing can tell you one aspect of his speech acquisition; however, how you perceive it at home is a different story. I would still have him tested, if possible, by someone independent from the school. But at the end, I think a professional that works with you can better provide an insight to his speech acquisition.

  3. Helena says

    Hi ,
    My name is Helena. I am Spanish and my partner is British . We have a wonderful 3 y old daughter. I have been speaking to her in Spanish since she was born . Although she understands Spanish, and is capable to say basic words , she speaks to me in English . Is this a normal behaviour? Is there anything else I should be doing? I really want her to be bilinge .

  4. says

    Parents who are teaching two languages to little ones in the home and are concerned about limited vocabulary in one language or the other need to take in to consideration the language that the child self selects. Often times children self select a language to speak in, they have internal reasons for the selection typically driven by social or emotional factors. Parents need to enforce their expectation of the language for speaking. It simplifies matters for the child if language can be clearly tagged to a person or activity, for example when we speak to daddy we only answer him in Chinese, but we always answer mom in English. If parents don’t enforce their expectations then children may code-switch or self select language. Code-switching or self selecting could increase the time it takes for a student to master the structure of any given language.

    Developing language targets four domains: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Proficiency levels can/will be different in every domain. While it may seem as if students have limited vocabulary in one language or another it could be that they have an extensive listening vocabulary, but have a smaller speaking vocabulary, because they are at different linguistic proficiency levels in those domains. Everyone learns language through the four domains. When a student is monolingual they are processing the one language through the four domains, but have levels of proficiency in each linguistic domain. The successes in each domain are influenced by the child’s individual learning style, intellectual ability and personality. It may at times seem as if a student learning several languages has a speech delay, but more than likely the reasons behind the delay have nothing to do with the language input, but instead is a result of multiple other factors.

    There is never a good reason for stopping multiple language instruction. As educators or parents we cannot truly know how much a child with disabilities internalizes the language(s). Shame on the educator that tells you not to embrace the learning of multiple languages. Language is history, culture, emotion a link to who we were and are as a people- don’t let anyone take that away from your child.

    • says

      I completely agree with you- parents need to look at advice with a critical lens. There is no reason to stop language learning!

      I love your points on learning the language through different domains, and the importance of the individual’s level in each domain. Excellent points for parents (and teachers for that matter) to think about when attempting to asses their children’s level. Thank you so much for adding to the discussion!


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