Language Spotlight Series: The Importance of Bilingualism in Early Childhood Education
The Importance of Bilingualism in Early Education
Parents often seek advice from pediatricians and early education professionals on what their children should be learning. By now, it’s common knowledge that reading to young ones and having frequent conversations with them are fundamental tools. These key components teach children the basics for language and communication foundations that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. We know this, right?
Why Bilingual Education Matters
If communication and language development is such a critical part of a learning foundation, then many have considered expanding that learning base by adding additional languages. The importance of bilingualism – the act of learning two or more languages simultaneously – has grown in popularity across the globe in recent decades because of this theory.
Considering that 21% of young children are already immersed in a second language at home (Hanen.org), it’s easy to understand why multiple languages are being introduced earlier and earlier in schools. In addition, a growing number of the general population speak a language other than English, so learning to be bilingual is becoming more of the “norm” today than ever before.
Beyond the Myths: The True Impact of Bilingualism
While some have been hesitant to add a second language to their young child’s educational repertoire, others are discovering how highly beneficial it can be. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Learning more than one language is an asset to individuals, families, and our entire society.” In fact, many researchers encourage parents to consider adding a bilingual approach to their child’s education for numerous reasons.
When it comes to considering a second language, one misconception is that it may confuse a growing child during the early education stage. It’s easy to understand the basis for these concerns, but researchers have now been able to prove they’re not only incorrect, but the exact opposite is true: bilingual children learn better and faster than other children.(The Hanen Centre)
“Bilingual children are better able to focus their attention on relevant information and ignore distractions” – Hanen.org.
The U.S. Department of Education notes several key benefits to teaching children multiple languages during early childhood. They broke them down into four basic categories: Cognitive Development, Social-Emotional Development, Learning, and Long-Term Success – all of which contain major benefits for bilingual children.
Cognitive Development and Bilingualism
Perhaps the greatest (and most immediate) benefit parents can witness in children learning a second language involves cognitive development. The Department of Education states children who begin learning second languages before the age of six will “have an easier time understanding math concepts and solving word problems; developing strong thinking skills; using logic; focusing, remembering, and making decisions; thinking about language; and learning other languages.”
Bilingualism and Social-Emotional Development
Broadening language experience during school hours enriches family and community ties. By bridging the communication gap between languages, bilingual children are able to understand and connect with more individuals, building even stronger friendships within their schools and communities. This crucial skill plays out with overall improved communication experiences with others and again, allows them to build better relationships than students who learn a single language.
Bilingualism’s Impact on Learning
Introducing a second language early on improves children’s learning abilities for everything else to come. It helps children learn how to intake only the important facts while weeding out irrelevant information.
Bilingualism and Long-Term Success
According to statistics, 50-65% of all adults across the globe now speak a language other than English. By those statistics alone, those who speak only English are already in the minority.
What does this mean for your child? Being in the language-minority will limit the opportunities available to your child as they reach adulthood.
Overall, more and more researchers are proving that introducing additional languages at an early age has an immensely positive impact on children. In addition to an increase in their ability to focus, higher cognitive function, and improved social and cultural relations, bilingualism has also been linked to several other benefits. Some of which include staving off degenerative cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and a higher annual salary bracket as a result of superior career qualifications.
“Recent brain studies have shown that bilingual people’s brains function better and for longer after developing (Alzheimer’s)… On average, the disease is delayed by four years compared to monolinguals” – Michigan State University News.
This cognitive advantage (as well as the rest of them mentioned above) all boil down to the flexibility and focus that is generated when individuals are immersed in the bilingual world. When bilingual learning begins during the early education years, it has the added benefit of improving their learning potential in multifaceted ways. While adults will still see many of these benefits if picking up a second language later in life, research has shown children stand to benefit the most by becoming bilingual.
If you’re interested in incorporating bilingual learning into your child’s early educational experience, check out these Different Types of Preschool Bilingual Learning for more information.