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.
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.
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.