When we launched SpanglishBaby almost six months ago, I wrote a post about why raise bilingual children. In the weeks and months following, we’ve tried to write about or at least mention the latest studies related to bilingualism which have given us even more reasons why it’s such a great decision to raise our children bilingual. But we’ve never really taken a closer, more detailed look at why bilingualism is one of the best gifts we can give our kids.
I guess the most remarkable thing about all these studies is that they prove the human brain is truly amazing. According to the latest study, “babies being raised bilingual — by simply speaking to them in two languages — can learn both in the time it takes most babies to learn one.” The main reason has to do with our brain’s flexibility and how exposure to two languages from early on increases this characteristic.
The study, conducted by scientists in Italy’s International School for Advanced Studies, was published this month in the journal Science and it tested more than 40 12-month old bilingual and monolingual babies. Although it seems kind of impossible to test children this young, researchers do so by tracking eye gazing. Here’s how it works:
“Make a fun toy appear on one side or the other whenever there’s a particular sound. The baby quickly learns to look on that side whenever he or she hears a brand-new but similar sound. Noninvasive brain scans document how the brain is processing and imprinting language. In this particular study, 44 12-month-olds were tested to see how they recognized three-syllable patterns — nonsense words, just to test sound learning. Sure enough, gaze-tracking showed the bilingual babies learned two kinds of patterns at the same time — like lo-ba-lo or lo-lo-ba — while the one-language babies learned only one.”
Hopefully this valuable information will be enough to, once and for all, debunk some of the major myths associated with bilingualism:
Growing up with two or more languages will only confuse your child.
This misconception has been around for a long time and apparently it goes back to issues of immigration in the United States. Educators used to tell immigrant parents that it was better for their children to speak English at home – erroneously stating that early exposure to two languages put children at a disadvantage.
It takes longer for bilingual children to learn how to speak.
The author of Raising a Bilingual Child, Barbara Zurer Pearson, says this myth is not supported by any scientific evidence. In fact, “with respect to most developmental language milestones, bilinguals are either at the same level as or ahead of monolinguals.”
They will only end up mixing both languages.
This is inevitable and it’s harmless. But to monolinguals, it’s proof that the child isn’t really able to tell his languages apart. The actual term for this behavior is “code-switching” and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. I do it and it’s not because I’m not completely fluent in both English and Spanish, but because sometimes a word sounds better in a particular language.
Another recent study conducted by researchers at Cornell Language Acquisition Lab concluded that bilingual children are better able to concentrate than their monolingual counterparts. According to the scientists, “children who learn a second language can maintain attention despite outside stimuli better than children who know only one language.” This ability to better concentrate can positively contribute to a child’s future academic success, the study went on to explain.
What parent wouldn’t want to provide their children with that possibility?
As if all these were not reasons enough to raise bilingual children, a Northwestern University study to be published next month, found that it’s easier for bilingual people than for monolingual ones to learn a new foreign language. Furthermore, the advantage “persists even when the new language they study is completely different from the languages they already know.”
In another words, if we’d like to introduce our children to a third language or they choose to learn one later on in their lives, they’ll have a much easier time thanks to our decision to raise them bilingual early on.
Fascinating, no? As I’ve mentioned in the past, no matter how you look at it, raising bilingual children is a win-win situation.
I hope you have the time to read all the studies mentioned here. They are definitely worth it. We’d love to know what you make of the findings, so please feel free to share your thoughts with us!