Education

The benefits of raising a bilingual child

Habla espanol? Or èske ou pale kreyòl? Or perhaps you’re fluent in another language — or just want your child to be? Teaching kids an additional language (or two) starting at a young age presents them with a host of benefits that make them better at reasoning, multitasking, and grasping and reconciling conflicting ideas. It also makes them more desirable in the job market, which is a long way off I know, but still …

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K. Lori Hanson, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and chief of research, evaluation and strategic planning at The Children’s Trust. thechildrenstrust.org

As it stands now, one in five Americans speaks a language other than English, with more than half of those speaking Spanish — and that number is growing. Raising a bilingual child has a host of advantages, especially when living in a city as diverse as Miami. Here are some of them:

Bilingual children have sharper brain function. By teaching your child another language, they learn early on how to balance and alternate between the two, which improves attention span and gives kids an edge when it comes to multitasking. Similarly, learning when the situation dictates what language to use requires a certain degree of flexibility. And as is true with any muscle, exercise over time increases flexibility, which helps children learn and process information faster.

Bilingual children possess stronger listening skills. Like a musician who trains their ears for the sounds of a specific note, bilingual children learn from a young age how to tune their hearing to unfamiliar sounds and words which develops their listening skills.

Bilingual children have higher memory retention. New words, sounds and challenges stimulate the brain, upping its overall health and increasing its memory power.

Bilingual children are more creative. By exposing kids to a variety of cultures you’re expanding their imaginations.

Bilingual children have a leg up in the future workplace. Communication is a cornerstone of life, and those who can converse in multiple languages have an edge over those who don’t. That means more job opportunities, especially at companies with international offices.

Bilingual children are better problem-solvers. Learning a foreign language helps children improve verbal and problem-solving skills, which comes in handy when they start school and take tests. Because language is like a puzzle, with letters and sounds that fit together to make words and form sentences, children become more adept at processing information quickly. You may even notice they excel in math, as words and numbers have much in common.

Bilingual children are more open-minded. Children who are exposed to more than one language tend to adjust better to changes in the environment. Learning about other cultures through language helps them develop tolerance, compassion and empathy for others.

Bilingualism provides an educational advantage. The cognitive benefits mentioned above give bilingual children an advantage in school, as they are more likely to be less distracted and more focused on tasks. Though children who are educated in a second language may initially lag behind in their preschool years, they soon catch up and outperform their peers by age 7.

Bilingual children may become healthier adults. Growing evidence among various health studies suggest bilingualism can delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as aid in faster stroke recovery, contribute to lower stress levels, and stave off many of the effects of old age.

Bilingual children will gain new perspectives. Who needs a travel app or phrase book? By raising a bilingual child you’re enriching their experiences by giving them a passport to the world. They can communicate with locals and immerse themselves in the language and culture of a new place.

Bilingual children have expanded social opportunities. Because bilinguals can make friends in more than one language, they have more opportunities to meet new people and enjoy different hobbies and activities.

Bilingual children form bonds with extended family. Children who can communicate fluently across cultural and generational boundaries tend to stay closer to their families, especially when relatives — such as a grandparent — speaks a foreign language, only.

Bilingual children can more easily learn another language. Language skills reinforce each other, so if your child already knows two languages, learning another one benefits from those skills.

Bilingual children will most likely raise bilingual kids. As our world becomes more global, being able to communicate in a language other than English will only continue to grow in importance.

K. Lori Hanson, Ph.D., licensed psychologist and chief of research, evaluation and strategic planning at The Children’s Trust, has more than 20 years’ experience assessing critical data and community research regarding the needs of children and families. For more information, visit thechildrenstrust.org.
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