How Does Language Learning Affect Brain Development in Children?

Raising a child who is bilingual may seem like a daunting task. Maybe you learned a second language as an adult and you remember how difficult it was for you, or maybe you aren’t sure if a child is capable of picking up the intricacies of two separate languages. You may not realize that a young child’s brain is vastly different from an adult’s brain. Research tells us that, not only are children great at learning and retaining new languages, but learning multiple languages earlier in life actually has a greater overall cognitive effect than learning them as an adult, and not just with future language acquisition.

Languages Make the Brain More Adaptable

In “The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual” by Viorica Marian, Ph.D. and Anthony Shook, they discuss how children as young as seven months old benefit from being raised in a bilingual environment. This might seem shocking to many, as children haven’t yet acquired verbal language skills at that age. However, being exposed to multiple languages helps infants “better adjust to environmental changes,” and the benefits continue throughout their life as “the bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain”. In short, learning multiple languages helps your brain learn how to effectively change gears, conform to new or unusual situations, and function well in new environments.  

shutterstock_120103930

Bilingualism Keeps the Brain Healthy in Old Age

Isn’t the brain amazing? Communicating in a new language is exciting, but there are so many additional benefits to language learning just for your brain. The benefits of bilingualism for brain development extend into old age as well. According to Marian and Shook, “bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline”. Learning a new language now can help you retain your brain power later in life, and the same applies to your child.

Bilingualism Can Help in Your Child’s Career

Early second language education will help your child both now and in the future. According to Time.com, bilingual job candidates can earn about 2% more than their monolingual counterparts. Knowing a second language also makes you a better candidate for business travel, which enables you to take better advantage of paid business trips. The perks of learning a second language extend into many other aspects of life.

How Can Parents Help Teach their Children Learn?

In addition to choosing an excellent school for your child to attend, you can also be a major driving force in your child’s language acquisition. Incorporating a second language at home, combined with the instruction your child receives at school, will greatly improve the speed of language acquisition. This article from PBS.org has some excellent suggestions for teaching your children at home, and you will benefit as well! Learning a second language with your child can be an enriching experience for you both!

shutterstock_370135250

Finding a school that incorporates a bilingual curriculum for young children is a challenge. Many schools don’t begin teaching a second language until high school, which is well into a child’s academic career, or, at a young age, they teach the language in insolation, for twenty or so minutes a day, which is not effective enough for language acquisition. At Tessa International School, we understand how important it is to provide a solid foundation for bilingualism early in life. This is why we teach 80% of the school day in a second language (Spanish, French or Mandarin) from preschool. Your child’s brain is at a point where it can easily begin to acquire a second language, and we want to see all of our students succeed in language, academics, and in their personal lives as they grow.

If you’re ready to help your child get on the path to being bilingual, please contact us for more information about our school, what we stand for, and how to enroll your child today.

Why Teaching Your Child a New Language Will Not Harm their English Skills

All parents want their children to thrive. Unfortunately, sometimes myths, rather than actual research, can lead our decisions as parents. A common piece of parenting folklore states that we might harm our children’s English language skills if we introduce the child to a new language during toddlerhood.

This is simply not true.

Busting A Myth

Access to different languages will allow children’s language skills to thrive. Children learn language structure without even knowing it, particularly at a young age, and can then apply it to their new language or languages.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information has determined that the ability to speak or understand more than one language actually helps brain development. In a study monitoring brain activity in bilingual individuals, they found that bilingual individuals had more brain activity in different areas of their brains than monolingual individuals.

The bilingual child’s brain is always active, differentiating between the two languages and their expansive vocabulary, particularly if the languages are taught simultaneously or in the same environment. This high level of brain activity, studies have shown, actually changes an individual’s ability to absorb new information. Essentially: learning a second language rewires the brain permanently so it performs language tasks quickly and efficiently.

shutterstock_257955776

Researchers at Cornell University have learned that young children who learn a second language have better attention skills and can ignore distractions easier than monolingual children. In our modern world, with distractions merely inches away from us, the frustration of continuous loss of attention for students, parents, and teachers, and eventually employers, cannot be overstated. It may seem counterintuitive, but learning a new language does not overwhelm a child’s brain. It helps it.

Languages Teach Empathy

The University of Chicago conducted a different study and learned that being multilingual increased empathy in children, allowing them to see situations from others’ points of view. Researchers noted that throughout human history, exposure to languages has aided survival through exposure to new ideas. What we are seeing with this study is evolution in action.

shutterstock_8743624

Languages also have different words for experiences and emotions, so empathy is engaged in the learning process. Multilingual children learn that languages are vibrant and organic, empowering them to appreciate the world’s many cultures.

The Cornell study researchers point out that learning to read, speak, write, and understand languages is part of what makes us human. Picking up different languages is simply what we do best.

What Learning Sounds Like

When children, particularly toddlers, are learning more than one language at the same time, they may occasionally use two or three different languages in a sentence. And of course, “sentence” is a relative term as toddlers speak in fragments, getting distracted from their main point, punctuating with constant “umms”, as they practice communication. Adding a few languages to the mix may frustrate the parent, who simply wants to know what is going on. It’s all perfectly fine. The child’s brain is simply trying to organize their thoughts into a system – one that will straighten out over time.

The bottom line is that research clearly shows that first language proficiency does not decrease by learning a new language. There are many benefits to learning a second language, and a child’s mind can only expand and grow from exposure.

We firmly believe this and invite parents to contact us if they wish to learn more about our educational philosophies.

The Career Benefits of Multilingual Education

There is no greater gift you can give to your child’s future career than a multilingual education. The business world is an international one, and the most successful companies have locations across the globe. Companies are always on the lookout for bilingual new hires and one of the most common complaints of young professionals is that they didn’t learn more languages (or learn more thoroughly) when they were younger. By helping your child learn additional languages when they are very young, you can set them up for higher quality positions for the rest of their lives.

Language and the Young Mind

By the time the public school system starts offering language classes, it’s too little, too late. The human mind learns languages best during the infant and toddler stage, preparing each person for the complex communication required for further learning. Study after study has found that “in the domain of language, infants and young children are superior learners when compared to adults, in spite of adults’ cognitive superiority”. Children from bilingual families, for instance, will always have a deeper, more inherent grasp of both languages than their peers who try to learn a second language. By the time the traditional high school language classes begin, the brain has solidified into it’s one-language way of forming thoughts and picking up the structure of a new language can be incredibly difficult.

shutterstock_254605735 (1)

Domestic Opportunities

English may be the national language, but it is by no means the only language spoken within the US. Companies are constantly seeking bilingual new hires, who experience a ten to fifteen percent pay increase for the value of their skills. When a staff includes people who speak multiple languages, a company can reach out to every local community, not just the English speaking ones. This means that your child’s linguistic abilities not only grow their own cultural awareness, but can influence any business they are a part of to greater cultural service. Especially in industries that cater to multicultural families, polyglots (people who know more than two languages) are desperately needed to translate and explain policies and opportunities to their non-English-speaking clients.

shutterstock_208016878

International Opportunities

The more languages you know, the more countries you can do business in. Whether your child grows up to be a doctor without borders or an international entrepreneur, markets and communities open up before them. Representing a corporation, they can also offer a courtesy few Americans can manage effectively: meeting clients in their own language. In addition, when culture, as well as language, is taught to children at an early age, they gain a deeper and more inherent understanding of how to interact with people from that culture courteously, without any common cross-cultural faux pas occurring.

Interpreters and Translators

Anyone with good manners and a strong grasp of two or more languages will always be welcomed as an interpreter or professional translator. These positions open up whole new realms of travel and import. Interpreters are needed everywhere from ESL classes to the UN, giving your child an amazing range of opportunities based on a single set of skills you can teach them before the age of six.

People who fluently speak multiple languages have an easier time getting a job, traditionally make more money than their monolinguistic counterparts, and can find unique business opportunities all over the world. Many people seek a second language later in life, but by then their brains have already settled into the thought patterns of a single language. By educating your toddler in multiple languages, you are effectively setting them up for a long and successful career, no matter what they choose to be when they grow up.

If you’d like more information on French or Spanish language learning for young children or to enroll your child in the Tessa International School, contact us today! Multilingual and multicultural early education is our passion and we’d love to share it with you and your child!

5 Benefits of Childhood Bilingualism

Benjamin Lee Wharf, a Yale linguist, was the first person to explore the possibility that bilingualism shapes the way we act and think. Although parts of his famous language theory, the “Sapir–Whorf hypothesis,”, remain hotly debated, many recent studies have supported his theory that bilingualism does have a distinct effect, particularly early in life. Many studies suggest that learning more than one language has the potential to unlock amazing mental capabilities and benefits as children grow and mature.  

Multitasking

Research conducted on 6-year-old test subjects produced some interesting and encouraging results The children were grouped into two even sets: children who were bilingual, and children who were monolingual. Researchers gave the children various tasks designed to test their multitasking abilities. The bilingual children were able to switch their attention between tasks with greater ability and speed. The researchers behind this experiment felt that this type of increased ability stems from the skills and brain development acquired during their language acquisition. They concluded that switching between two separate languages regularly may increase the activity in our brain responsible for multitasking.

Brain Health

shutterstock_188023364

Some researchers liken the brain to a “muscle”, growing and changing as we “exercise” it regularly, making it stronger and healthier in the long run. In a 2011 study, researchers found strong evidence to support the theory that bilingualism can support overall brain health and delay cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. Although there is no cure for these diseases, this study suggests that learning multiple languages may increase our “cognitive reserve,” the brain’s ability to use its resources and resist damage. Learning multiple languages is a perfect way for children to  “exercise” and grow important areas of the brain.

Social Growth

Communication is extremely important in the modern world for cultural understanding. As children grow and mature, learning how to interact with different types of people is of huge social advantage. Bilingual children possess great potential for social skills, with an increased sense of empathy, both used in their personal relationships and even in their future careers. Language is the glue that holds society together. To possess greater language ability will provide a child with greater social understanding, skill and increased adaptability (not only linguistic, but a general ability to adapt better in multiple settings).

Abstract Reasoning

As we grow, we begin to think deeper and are capable of understanding more abstract thoughts. Our academics become more oriented towards problem-solving designed to test our reasoning skills and creativity. Studies have shown that children who understood two languages at an early age have an advantage at this type of learning later in life. Using multiple languages grows short-term “working-memory”, a brain tool specifically designed for problem-solving and rapid-fire action.  Bilingual children often show greater brain “flexibility” when it comes to solving problems and finding original answers.

Better Focus and Attentionshutterstock_419267809

Many young children often initially struggle with sitting still and focusing on specific tasks. However, as they grow, their attention span often grows with them, allowing them to increase their focus. Some studies show that bilingual children possess a naturally stronger attention span. Even at younger ages, these children often possess the ability to focus on tasks and better understand what’s being asked of them. This is due to improved “executive control,” a cognitive mechanism responsible for mental decisions and focus. Some researchers feel that better executive control in bilingual children results from their ability to quickly see the difference between the words of different languages. By switching back and forth between two languages at a split-second’s notice, these children naturally grow their focus and attention to detail.

Although many new facts about bilingual development are yet to be discovered, many studies suggest that specific benefits come with learning multiple languages. As adults, we often struggle with learning foreign languages. However, language learning is much easier for children as they have an innate gift to do so and they do not compartmentalize in the way we do – language is language. Gifting  your child another language at an early age puts them at great advantage for their future.

For more information on language skills and development, please contact us today.

What is immersion education?

7Immersion education is a system in which all academic subjects are taught in a target language such as French, Spanish, or Mandarin. It’s best if it’s started when children are young as they are more able to pick up subtle nuances of language. The classrooms are efficient learning environments where classroom procedures and transitions move quickly.

Teachers are fluent and native speakers of the target language and they are committed to speaking the target language consistently. This means they speak the target language during instruction, transitions, outside play, and eating times. Teachers are highly attentive to students’ needs and their individual learning styles.

The classroom is a literacy rich environment with pictures, labels, and other meaningful visuals to help support the target language throughout the day. Teachers are skilled at aiding comprehension through non-verbal clues and strategic teaching strategies.

The day is organized and routines are consistent and key phrases and vocabulary are repeated often to help children gain a foothold on their vocabulary development. Children make connections across the curriculum as the target language and English curriculum are aligned which allows them to reinforce concepts and ideas in both languages.

Will your child lose their English?

Studies have shown that children in immersion settings perform the same if not better than children who are not.

What if you don’t speak the target language at home?

You do not need to speak the target language for your child to succeed and gain proficiency. Homework is designed in a fun and engaging way through songs and games to review classroom learning. Strong communication with your child’s teacher is a key component to success.

For more detailed information please contact Michelle at mvoice@tessais.org.

The benefits of an immersion education.

What is immersion education?

Immersion education is a system in which all academic subjects are taught in a target language such as French, Spanish, or Mandarin. It’s best if it’s started when children are young as they are more able to pick up subtle nuances of language. The classrooms are efficient learning environments where classroom procedures and transitions move quickly.

Teachers are fluent and native speakers of the target language and they are committed to speaking the target language consistently. This means they speak the target language during instruction, transitions, outside play, and eating times. Teachers are highly attentive to students’ needs and their individual learning styles.

The classroom is a literacy rich environment with pictures, labels, and other meaningful visuals to help support the target language throughout the day. Teachers are skilled at aiding comprehension through non-verbal clues and strategic teaching strategies.

The day is organized and routines are consistent and key phrases and vocabulary are repeated often to help children gain a foothold on their vocabulary development. Children make connections across the curriculum as the target language and English curriculum are aligned which allows them to reinforce concepts and ideas in both languages.

Will your child lose their English?

Studies have shown that children in immersion settings perform the same if not better than children who are not.

What if you don’t speak the target language at home?

You do not need to speak the target language for your child to succeed and gain proficiency. Homework is designed in a fun and engaging way through songs and games to review classroom learning. Strong communication with your child’s teacher is a key component to success.

For more detailed information please contact Michelle at mvoice@tessais.org.