Learning an additional language, especially in early childhood, improves certain brain functions besides language, including overall learning abilities.
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The old myths that bilingual children are somehow more intelligent than other monolingual counterparts, or that early bilingualism causes speech delays, are simply unproven.
Speaking two or more languages doesn’t increase general intelligence measures, but clearly does enhance executive functions. Executive functions, or EFs – the ability to focus on the information needed to complete a task – allow us to keep a goal in mind, take action to achieve that goal, and to shut out other information that might distract us from completing a task.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that learning additional languages strengthens our EFs by forcing us to activate different languages within fractions of a second or to switch quickly between languages.
The benefits of bilingualism are already evident by the time your child reaches toddlerhood or preschool age – children with two native languages significantly outperform children who speak one language on cognitive tests that measure reaction time and the ability to exclude conflicting information. Furthermore, speech from multilingual toddlers has been found to be more relevant (meaning the ability to stay on topic) and less repetitive than that of their monolingual counterparts.
Science shows us that while learning additional languages seems to confer benefits at any age, timing does matter. Learning additional languages early in life provides greater benefits than learning as an adolescent or adult, and delays age-related cognitive decline. Whether or not your child is in an environment where an additional language is necessary if possible consider placing your child in a multilingual environment. Not only will their language development be enhanced, but they will also be strengthening their overall learning skills – an indisputable benefit that will last a lifetime.
A note about the author:
Dr. Randa Grob-Zakhary, MD Ph.D. is the Founder of The Babyboost Institute for Early Learning and Development. Want more tips? Purchase Babyboost: 50 Critical Facts on Amazon.